Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Labor, Unions, & Work

In 1776, King Louis XVI of France revealed that he understood the natural right of the individual to work, which had little to do with labor unions, as reported in this article from The Catholic Thing.

An excerpt.

“Winston Churchill was brought back resoundingly to power in the General Election of 1950, and he remarked on the conceit of the opposing party in appropriating the name “Labour”: For “they are not the only ones who work in this country.”

“As we approach Labor Day, it seems curious that the day has come to celebrate the place and strength of labor unions. In recent years, unions have been disappearing from manufacturing and private industry; they have held on and grown mainly with jobs in the government, sustained by their political clout. By 2010, the union membership in government had come to exceed the membership in private industry (7.6 million, as against 7.1 million employees). But what is more curious is the way in which the “rights of workers” have been identified with the rights of unions –and radically detached, then, from the understanding of the “natural right” to work.

“That understanding was put forth with a rare clarity and force by political authority with – of all things – a proclamation by Louis XVI in 1776. The king’s edict was drafted by Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, the estimable minister of finance and a prime defender of a liberal order in the economy and the polity. The purpose of the edict was to break the special privileges of guilds, trading companies, and other monopolies, including the government itself, in controlling access to employment.

“The edict would explicitly reject the premise that the means of making a living are the property, presumptively, of the state. These schemes of regulation brought their advantages for the privileged, but this “illusion” of benefits, said the monarch, concealed “the infraction of natural right.” He rejected the notion that “the right to work was a royal privilege which the king might sell, and that his subjects were bound to purchase from him”: “God in giving to man wants and desires rendering labor necessary for their satisfaction, conferred the right to labor upon all men, and this property is the first, most sacred, and imprescriptible of all.

“A little more than a century later, Leo XIII would fill out the moral grounding of that understanding in Rerum Novarum (1891). The Holy Father warned against socialist schemes that would do away with private property, so that “individual possessions should become the property of all, to be administered by the state.” The working man himself, he said, would be among “the first to suffer.”