My father has always been my hero. Coming from a meager background, his story is the classic American story of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, working hard, and enjoying the fruits of America’s free market system. Getting into electrical contracting on his own in 1968 after being laid off from another electrician’s job, dad literally started it out of the trunk of his car, but he and my uncle expanded that business significantly within two decades. Today, my father remains a successful businessman, but before he got to that point, believe me, nobody ever gave him anything. He earned every bit of it.
And his attitude has always been that he’d be damned before anyone was going to take it away from him. In an e-mail exchange with me about how right-to-work South Carolina is far preferable to forced unionized states, dad explained how the unions once tried to muscle into his business at the height of his success: “In the ’80s when our business was big — 240 employees, two planes, worked in three states — they tried to get in my door and others. We had a strong open shop policy among many major local electrical contractors … Unions (were) losing ground in every direction. I had always said I would close my shop if it were to go union (and) I presided over the (Associated Independent Electrical Contractors of America) Charleston Chapter for three years. We operated a merit shop … We did not believe all should get the same pay and benefits, just on years of service alone. We left room for advancement based on personal performance … merit … it works, and I still have dedicated employees today.”
Dad added “The country should run that way.”
He’s right. Before I became a conservative political pundit, I worked for my father’s company in the field, digging ditches, running conduit and wire, installing electrical equipment, you name it. I did this off-and-on throughout high school and for a solid eight-year stretch later in life. Most of the job foremen at the various construction sites where I worked were men I had known since I was a child. Some are still there. And my father would be the first to admit it would be near impossible to run his business without these talented and dedicated workers. “Merit” pays.
But the very notion of a union coming in and telling dad how to run his business — who he can hire or fire, where he can work, where he can’t, and all the other dictatorial aspects characteristic of organized labor — is anathema to anyone who has managed to build their own American dream from scratch. This is not to say that at various times in this country’s history unions have not done some good, or corrected injustices, or even protected workers in a needed way. But it is to say that unions today mostly damage the economies of any state or any industry in which they hold sway, precisely because they demand far too much while offering comparatively little in return in terms of practical business operations and efficiency.
By their very nature, most modern unions are top-heavy bureaucracies that reward members based on longevity and seniority, not necessarily quality and merit. The results of such a system are often disastrous. What the United Auto Workers have done to the automobile industry in Detroit and elsewhere is a perfect example. So is what teachers’ unions have done to public education. So is what the National Labor Relations Board has been trying to do to Boeing in South Carolina.
As a traditional conservative, I am suspicious of all concentrated power, public or private. While free markets are always preferable to big government collectivism or socialism, this does not mean they are always perfect. I’ve penned columns championing mom-and-pop stores over mega-chains, denouncing corporate bank bailouts, and decrying other forms of crony capitalism on precisely such grounds.
That said, the concentrated bureaucratic and nightmarish power that defines modern unions represents perhaps the most useless, archaic, and anti-American of institutions in this country today. It’s hard to say a good word about most unions, not because I’m some mindless partisan, but because there truly is little good to say about them at this juncture. Funny enough, my father’s first job as a teenager was a union job — where he was asked to keep an eye out for wandering bosses while his superiors slept and played cards.
As dad notes, the country should be run by rewarding hard-working men and women for their merit and not punishing non-union workers or the businesses that hire them for daring to operate on free market principles.
My father is right. This really is how the country is supposed to work.
Jack Hunter is the official campaign blogger for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, and he co-wrote Rand Paul’s The Tea Party Goes to Washington.