As societies become increasingly regulated by central bureaucracies, the working man’s traditional freedoms are slowly being extinguished. Less than a century ago, doctors, lawyers and engineers could work without any state oversight, regulation or licensing. The free market employed a system of apprenticing and relied upon reputation to sort the good practitioners from the bad. In this pre-regulatory and pre-licensing world, the sciences, medicine and engineering grew in leaps and bounds. The greatest discoveries were made, great buildings and structures were constructed and standards of living grew faster than ever before.
The Rise of Trade Unions
During the nineteenth century, special interest groups saw that they could use the power of the state to increase their personal wealth. Trade unions were born as organizations that lobbied for changes in law that reduced competition, increased revenue for members and eliminated the need to develop a reputation. They supported a legal framework whereby employers and customers would be required to pay what unions demanded. In moral terms such a tactic is called extortion, but it was given the more palatable term “union bargaining”.
Politically, the trade unions were sold as being necessary to protect workers and the public, but it was understood that it was workers’ salaries that were to be protected first and foremost. In 1918, a Saskatchewan engineer named F.H. Peters came clean when he said that “only a trade union could give such guarantees [of increased remuneration]… that is the sum and substance of what we want.” .
At first, politicians were skeptical of giving trade unions what they wanted because they knew that such unions would simply fleece customers and employers. After being subjected to sufficient lobbying, however, they eventually cast their doubts aside and gave the trade unions what they wanted: Laws that controlled membership to keep competition to a minimum and wages to a maximum. Today, such trade unions are sometimes called “professional associations”, “colleges” or “societies”. Examples include The Law Society of British Columbia and The Association of Registered Nurses of Prince Edward Island.
The Myth of Public Safety
Trade unions have always justified their existence to the public by claiming that they improve public safety by ensuring that members meet specific qualifications for licensing. (For example, refer to reference 2.) However, surely there must be statistical data that proves this correlation in order to support such a claim, right? Surprisingly, the only data that one can find is counter-evidence: The fact that licensed workers are sometimes brought before punishment tribunals for misconduct or some sort of malfeasance proves that there are some members who should not have been licensed in the first place.
There is no other evidence that one can find to support the notion that these trade unions increase public safety by any measurable degree. Apparently no one, in the nearly one hundred years of the existence of modern trade unions, has ever bothered to prove that these organizations have statistically positive effects on public safety. Indeed, perhaps they have negative effects. Perhaps the money they extract from their licensees reduces public safety because less money is left for members and their customers to invest in safety.
But if you take a step back, you’ll realize that these organizations have never defined what “public safety” is nor how to measure it. Plus, there is never any definition of precisely who the “public” is. Is it the customers and employers of the members, or the butcher, the baker… who knows?
So, if these trade unions have never bothered to define precisely who the public is, what public safety means, how public safety can be measured, how an increase or decrease in public safety can be statistically attributed to their licensing and regulations, then how on earth can they tell if their claims are true? Indeed, without this information, there is no way to tell if any of their actions are improving or degrading public safety.
If these trade unions cannot back-up their claims about public safety, then shouldn’t they come clean and simply drop the facade of “protecting the public” and fess-up to their real goal of increasing the financial benefits for their members?
Trade Unions & Monopoly
Canada’s trade unions can be called “profitless coercive monopolies“. Only governments could make organizations like these legal. Canadian trade unions are the antithesis of free market organizations as indicated by these following characteristics:
PROFITLESS: Trade unions claim that they are non-profit, but such claims make little sense because the concept of profit only works in the context of the free market. In the free market, profit is a reward for a job well done and acts as an indication to businessmen that they should either keep doing what they’re doing, or stop it and do something else. The idea of profit in the context of trade unions is meaningless because these organizations have a captive audience that must pay whatever is demanded. Money that is left over after expenses are paid is simply an indication of the degree of extortion perpetrated against otherwise free individuals.
COERCIVE: If a worker wanted to practice and not pay the regulating association for the “privilege” of earning a living in the occupation of his choice, he would be quickly fined and may be sent to jail if he did not stop working straight away. This is exactly the opposite of voluntary cooperation & exchange, the essential elements of peaceful human coexistence as practised in the free market.
MONOPOLY: We know that trade unions are monopolies because if competitors attempted to hand-out licenses they would be immediately fined or sent to jail. Because they are monopolies, the trade unions get their money no matter how badly they perform; after all, their licensees cannot go to any competitor nor refuse to pay them without dire legal consequences.
History has proven that state-sanctioned monopolies always result in lower quality, higher prices, poorer products and increasingly unhappy customers. They are also accompanied by a healthy dose of propaganda, propaganda that is required to sell the need for such monopolies to the public. Why should trade union monopolies be any different?
References “A short history of PEO’s beginnings ”, Peter DeVita, P.Eng., FEC, Engineering Dimensions, Jan/Feb 2012 (http://www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/20304/la_id/1.htm)  “PEO Fact Sheet”, Professional Engineers Ontario (http://www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/23997/la_id/1.htm)  “Guideline for Engineering Professional Practice”, Professional Engineers Ontario, March, 2011 (http://www.peo.on.ca/index.php/ci_id/19394/la_id/1.htm)