Freedom Of Contract: A Novel Libertarian Interpretation

Libertarians enthusiastically defended oil companies that raised their prices in the wake of Katrina, but they’ve had little appetite for defending the NY transit workers who decided to raise their prices.

It was amusing to see someone who calls herself Jane Galt chiding workers for striking selfishly. Bloggers at Catallarchy were particularly vocal in defending the oil companies, but the only mention of the strike I can find on that blog just quotes Galt lamenting how strikers made victims of millions of New Yorkers. I can’t imagine them letting similar charges against oil companies pass without comment.

KipEsquire seemed pleased that strikers would be fined under the Taylor Law so I asked him a question. His surprising reply is in the comments:

Kennedy: Why aren’t libertarians commenting on the obvious injustice of outlawing strikes?

KipEsquire: Because libertarians believe in freedom of contract. If you don’t like the terms of employment, which are made clear upfront, then don’t take the job.

Now how about the injustice of requiring people to join unions, or at least to pay union dues, against their will?

Freedom of contract?

Their contract expired before they went on strike. So how can fining them for not working in the absence of a contract be squared with freedom of contract?

15 thoughts on “Freedom Of Contract: A Novel Libertarian Interpretation”

  1. Their contract expired before they went on strike.

    if that’s true, and as clean a break as you’re making it sound (i don’t know the terms of their contract, which could extend, as in non-compete clauses, beyond the contract’s general expiration), why are you calling it a strike? why is anybody? i’d be curious about the contract details if somebody links to them. my 5-minute google failed. did they sign an agreement that they won’t strike? if so, is it in force after the contract’s general expiration?

    would you please comment on the similarities between oil companies and these government workers which you feel make them directly comparable? i’m baffled by your post, but figure you’re holding some rebuttal cards. with my extremely small knowledge of these two entities (NYC transit union, oil companies), i think a comparison is absurd. not trying to make a case, but the two main things i’m thinking about on the transit side are 1) state government workers, paid with either stolen money or income from a coercive monopoly. 2) jobs protected by force from non-union competition.

    they want immorally protected jobs, and this massive carrot (in their opinion) comes with a stick? too bad. i don’t care if they all choke on their dinners tomorrow and fall down dead. would be fine with me. don’t feel the same way about oil company execs as a class though. should i?

  2. “would you please comment on the similarities between oil companies and these government workers which you feel make them directly comparable?”

    They both raised their prices and were both effectively accused of price gouging – supposedly the oil companies were taking unfair advantage of Katrina and the strikers were taking unfair advantage of the Christmas season.

  3. “if that’s true, and as clean a break as you’re making it sound (i don’t know the terms of their contract, which could extend, as in non-compete clauses, beyond the contract’s general expiration)why are you calling it a strike? why is anybody?”

    The government has never claimed they’re violating any contract and they are not being sued for any breach of contract. The penalty in question is under the Taylor Law.

    It’s still a strike.

  4. They both raised their prices and were both effectively accused of price gouging – supposedly the oil companies were taking unfair advantage of Katrina and the strikers were taking unfair advantage of the Christmas season.

    john, if that’s your whole case, you got nothin. they were both accused of price gouging? great. one used force, and the other didn’t. coercive labor unions are just that. it’s not freedom of association. it’s not liberty. it’s gang violence. non-coercive labor unions? far as i know, such a thing doesn’t exist in NYC. regardless, you were discussing transport workers union local 100, whose members have lived for many years on the backs others. worry about them when their fanged master turns on them? hardly. no similar claims against the oil company execs have yet been presented here.

    still a strike? how can it be a strike if they were technically unemployed? or were they not technically unemployed? all depends on the contract, which also hasn’t been presented as evidence beyond the mere invocation of the word. i don’t know what it said, and apparently you don’t either. if this post is about contract sniggles, it’s appropriate to know what the contract says.

    my criticism of government workers has nothing to do with some BS labor contract for a bunch of thugs to make a living using stolen equipment, protected by guns from competition. contract argument is a diversion in this matter, and it appears to be an overreaction to some who are so anti-union that they can’t acknowledge that not all unions violate property. fine. they’re wrong, and so are the transport workers union local 100 perverts.

  5. What force stopped NY from replacing or doing without the strikers?

    not even relevant, though i’ll answer it anyway at the end. they went off the radar as soon as they went under the protection of the state. if they want to live by state rules to that extent, it’s a choice they made. live as free from the devil as possible, or dance with him. and if you dance with him, to hell with you. that’s only one reason why i, at least, am not “defending the NY transit workers who decided to raise their prices.” they are attempting to raise prices in jobs they can’t morally even hold — jobs that might not even exist were force not employed. the attempt to equate what they do with oil company behavior falls into fallacy when all that’s pointed to is the lone shared characteristic of attempting to raise prices. hit men can try to raise prices too, but that doesn’t make oil company execs murderers. conversely, attempting to raise prices does not bestow sainthood on the actor.

    if the only thing involved in a strike were a non-coercive union, i’d say it sucks, and i wouldn’t actively defend them either, but as far as i know i’d have no self-defense claim in that regard. not true with NYC. seems that you’re forgetting in all of this, as is often done in liberty discussions, that i also can shun people for nothing but arbitrary reasons. i don’t have to leap to their defense. if pressed, i would answer truthfully. that’s about it.

    re your force question, as far as i know, non-union workers are forcefully barred from competing for transit jobs in NYC. this gives false incentive for a contract, which then, if non-union workers may come in during a strike (i don’t know), makes it logistically almost impossible. that’s the fault of many people, but the advantage is almost completely that of the transit union members, and nobody else. this is not competition, but rather market destruction by force.

    another force propping up the transit workers is the NYC taxi scam. when the sudden dearth of transportation options cannot be even mildly assuaged by those who’d like to turn their vehicles into cabs, again, the advantage is entirely to the union — an advantage gained by force. force was used against the union? good. who gives a damn what two psychotic parties want to do to each other. those workers are the state. is that not relevant to you?

    all of this contract talk is flack until somebody knows what the contract terms were. even then, it’s not relevant to your first point. the transit workers embrace force against others, and are not worthy of defending, no matter what contract they have. if i saw one being physically attacked, and i had the means to defend him, i would not. worrying about these scumbags and their contract is some sort of exercise in disputation you’ve concocted for yourself, while not having the details adequate to begin. if you don’t have the contract text to review, your assertions in that regard are pulled from the air.

  6. If you’re so curious Charley why don’t you read about the relevant legal provisions here? It still seems to me that Kennedy’s question makes sense; their contract expired, and the union decided to walk off the job until better terms were forthcoming. This, in turn, violated a law which basically makes the transit workers slaves to the city, in a sense:

    The strike was illegal under the provisions of an addition to New York State Civil Service Law called the Public Employees Fair Employment Act, more commonly called the Taylor Law, which has been in effect since September 1, 1967. It was passed largely in response to the 1966 transit strike. It prohibits municipal workers from striking and provides alternative means for dispute resolution. The law provides for criminal penalties including imprisonment of union officials, and fines against the union and individual striking workers.

    However, I do agree with you as to the reason underlying the seeming double-standard among libertarians: These people work directly for the state, and contribute little in their jobs except for operating the buses, whereas (I guess) in the eyes of libertarians the oil companies are engaged in heroically transforming scarce resources into valuable products in spite of government harrassment. However, strictly speaking the union worker’s themselves haven’t violated anyone’s rights; it’s the city and state lawmakers who are mainly responsible for that.

  7. Hardman has a point, kinda:

    my criticism of government workers has nothing to do with some BS labor contract for a bunch of thugs to make a living using stolen equipment, protected by guns from competition.

    But the problem is that the same criticism applies to oil companies, too. They benefit from, among other things, the fact that not just anyone can fill up a tanker with crude and sail the thing into port. The government puts barriers to entry into every market, and so you can say that every established business receives government help in the form of excluding the competition.

    The thing is that most libertarians are pretty picky about whom they criticize. For example, the same sort of “Live by the sword, die by the sword” rhetoric applies just as well to the commuters that were left stranded. They’ve been sucking off the taxpayer tit for all these years, getting their transportation subsidized by the generous taxpayers of New York, and now it’s fallen through. Call it ‘some BS expectation of transportation from a bunch of leeches making their way via stolen equipment, protected by guns from market prices’.

    Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, right? Except that libertarians like Esquire and Galt don’t see it that way. My first guess is that since both of them apparently live in NYC, they need government transit so much that little things like who pays for what and why are quite unimportant to them.

  8. From Armageddon:

    Max: Something’s wrong.

    Rockhound: Yeah man, it’s ALL wrong. We shouldn’t even be here.

    But here we are.

    Is it moral to take a government job? I started thinking about this question years ago when I first became an anarchist. Jimbo Wales provided the sensible test: You can take any job in a mixed economy that would be moral in a free market. You can drive a subway train. You can be a professor at UNLV. You can be a fireman, but you can’t be a cop if part of your job is arresting people for dealing drugs.

    Does this test make every choice crystal clear? It makes most choices clear enough.

    There’s nothing criminal about taking a public job in the NY subway system.

  9. I think the only way you could get the opposite conclusion would be to endorse the principle that if something benefits evil-doers, no matter how slightly, a good person must not support that thing, no matter the benefits. The way I always think of it is: Would it be moral to be Hitler’s secretary?

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