Rhetoric in the public square often lacks integrity. To me, nothing is more grating than calling coercion a right. Unfortunately, this is done all the time (usually by those on the left).
An op-ed in the New York Times today is a classic example. The headline is “Crippling the Right to Organize” by Stanford law professor, William B. Gould IV. The essence of his argument is that “three decades of Republican resistance to [the FRLB constitutes] an unwillingness to recognize the fundamental right of workers to band together, if they wish, to seek better pay and working conditions.”
I would challenge Gould to come up with even a single example of a Republican politician who has ever challenged the right of workers (or anyone else) to organize and seek better pay (or whatever else they want).
You see, Gould is not talking about the rights of workers at all. What he is talking about is the use of state powers to compel employers to participate in collective bargaining, whether they want to or not. Indeed, most of federal labor law isn’t about rights, it is about coercion. It is about the loss of freedom of contract, not a gain in anyone’s rights.
When I have a right it implies a duty of my fellow citizens. My right to speak includes the duty of others not to prohibit my speaking when I do so in a way that respects others’ rights. It doesn’t, however, obligate others to listen to me, to facilitate my speaking, to allow me to speak (or camp out out) on private property without permission, to obstruct public right-of-ways or in any other manner restrict the rights of others. Many OWS folks have been to college but failed to learn anything in the process about rights—even as they are screaming about them.
Similarly, my right to organize and associate with whomever I wish for whatever cause I wish does not obligate anyone to pay attention to my organization. If, for instance, I organize people who play fantasy football to get ESPN to change its options for fantasy leagues, this does not obligate ESPN to listen to my organization. Of course, they may want to, just as firms may want to bargain collectively with workers. But my Constitutional right of free association is not abridged because people don’t recognize my association.
[Incidentally, right-to-work laws that prohibit employers from reaching agreements that require union membership for employees are almost as as noxious as those that mandate collective bargaining with unions in the first place. The firm should have the same right to hire only unionized workers as it does to hire non-unionized workers.]
Perhaps collective bargaining laws make sense on utilitarian grounds. But those advocating such should be honest enough to admit it. They should say, “I want to use coercive state power to force companies to bargain collectively because such a policy would be in the public interest.”
Of course this isn’t a good argument, but at least it is an intellectually honest one. It doesn’t abuse the notion of rights in a way that cheapens the very meaning of the word.