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Proud to be a Replacement Worker

Mises Daily: Tuesday, March 02, 2004 by

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I've been working at Ralphs on Beverly and Doheny for nearly 3 months. This was my first job. The lucrative pay and high demand for workers drew me to it. I simply walked in and filled out application, and was given the hours I'd work.

I started as a bagger.

"Bread and eggs should be on the top. You know, just use common sense."

Those two sentences were my training.

I showed up wanting to work and learn, and I've been able to do both. I've now worked in several departments of the market, learning how it operates. I know what to do when a truck arrives at receiving, I know how to break down a load of produce, how to shrink wrap a six-wheeler properly, how to order groceries from the warehouse, how to make tags and signs, and how to help the elderly carry their bags to their homes.

I learned all this in a few months, but all of this originates from my one genuine desire, to work and learn for the wages offered me.

Today, like many days since October the 11th, there are thousands of workers on strike. They are on strike because the wages and benefits offered to them were not those they are willing to accept.

Yet all these terms, "lock outs", "unions" and "strike", escape the simple reality of the situation. Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons can't operate their markets without employees. In an effort to trade goods with consumers and make a profit for themselves and their shareholders they hire people, like me, to operate their stores. In return, they give these employees a share of the profits they make from trading goods with consumers in the form of wages.

The key to all this is that it is their store, not mine. They offer me a wage, and it is my choice to accept this wage freely, or to reject it. In a system free of coercion, individuals trade freely and upon terms of agreement both parties accept on their own free will.

Yet those who are striking contend that the wages and benefits are too low, and that they demand higher wages and will strike until they are given them.

Consider this, I'd like a new BMW Z4 but for me the price is too high. Should I demand that BMW lower their prices until satisfied? But that's not enough, not only will I object to the high prices of BMW, but I will gather together a great number of 70,000 like-minded car consumers, and we will refuse to buy BMW's until their prices are lowered.

Additionally, we will march around with signs in front of their dealerships and intimidate those who might want to purchase BMW's at a market price, and make them feel guilty about their decision. We will get in their faces and shout: "Why don't you buy a Honda?" We will do everything possible to cripple BMW's business and force them into submission and perhaps bankruptcy.

I realize the strikers are not asking for new BMW's, but that hardly changes the principle they are supporting. Instead of promoting market cooperation in which buyer and seller agree or agree to disagree, they are promoting intimidation and coercion to force others to trade according to certain conditions.

Whether someone wants to put a roof over their head, buy food or buy a new car, all should operate on the same principle of freedom of choice. When one looks at the strikers situation, the tactics employed and the principles behind it, one must ask, is this consistent with freedom? Is this what free and fair trade is? To use coercion to force others to trade under your conditions is folly.

Every day I hear a customer tell me about how they just want the strike to be over, or see some striker on TV talk about how they want their job back. They go back to work, but it is not their job anymore. They made their decision. Wages and benefits were offered, and they said, "No." In a free country, that should be the end of things. If the strikers are not happy with management's offer they should seek wages and benefits that commensurate with their needs and abilities somewhere else. Instead, they use coercion, to attempt to force the markets to their knees so they can artificially raise their wage rates.

Ignore the unemployment and/or increase in prices that microeconomics tells us must follow from the existence of unions and just look at it from an ethical point of view. The media would be in an uproar if the law allowed supermarkets to demand that their employees work at wages of their choosing. There was great unrest over this policy in American history, and those in the media at that time who raised their voice in opposition were branded as Abolitionists. Where are those voices now?

Freedom is the right to make choices without coercion. Those people with their signs standing in front of the markets are rejecting freedom. I am not taking the side of labor or management, I am taking the side of free and fair trade. Free individuals trading services for goods and goods for services are the essence of the labor/management relationship.

There is no freedom in crippling someone's business if they don't give you the transaction you want. It almost borders on thievery, to hurt someone's business by intimidating consumers not to shop there.

I would never deny the right of someone to have wages of their own choosing, but that is entirely different than allowing workers to choose whatever wage rate they want and to coerce others into giving it to them. You can pay however much you want for bread, but that does not give you the right to choose the price of bread; and certainly not to force the baker to give you his/her goods at whatever price you ordain.

If employers are underpaying their workers, then these undervalued resources will be purchased (hired) by competitors who will gladly run those who undervalued them out of business. What can we say about the unwillingness of workers to leave the union and pursue employment elsewhere, at places where they are not "undervalued"? The absence of others willing to pay them the high wage they demand must mean that they are not, in fact, undervalued as resources. Perhaps, I dare say, they are overvaluing their labor services.

So, when these overvalued resources were renegotiating contracts with companies taking loses of late, perhaps because of overvalued labor, they decided not to give up their artificially high wage rates instead crippling the company that would not give them more than they were worth.

I went to Ralphs because I was willing to work and learn for the wages they offered. When the time comes and this strike ends I have made it very clear that I will not work if the markets remain unionized. I wouldn't trade my freedom for the membership of any union, and that is something I would strike for.

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Ryan Ford lives in Southern, California. Send him MAIL.