Reclaiming the Labor Movement Through Union Dues? A Postmodern Perspective in the Mirror of Public Choice Theory
The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) seeming powerlessness to process dues objector cases has led to a proliferation of state sponsored “paycheck protection” laws and popular referenda devised to ensure that workers will not be obliged to pay dues for non-germane purposes. Recently, California captured national attention as the site of a richly contested paycheck protection referendum. Such proposals have electrified union advocates and have enlivened the debate over the proper use of union dues. In addition, recent attempts to reform campaign finance have run aground on the thorny issue of union political contributions (both in-kind and in cash). Concurrently, private sector unions continue to decline in significance as agents of change within the workplace. On the other hand, union influence within the political sector may be ascendant.
This Article inspects attempts to reclaim the labor movement and to enhance worker solidarity through expansive interpretations of the social and political meaning of union dues. By investigating whether the interests and identities of individuals or subgroups of workers are necessarily congruent with those of either the union majority or union leadership and by disputing dominant free rider assumptions embedded in the Taft-Hartley Act, this approach delegitimizes coerced transfers from union members and dues payers for political and other purposes. Methodologically, the Article deploys postmodern insights, group cooperation theory, and public choice theory to contest the prevailing view that individuals and identifiable subgroups of workers must sacrifice their particular interests and identities to the “greater totalizing goals of the working class.” While postmodernism has its critics, the author argues that an expansive deployment of union dues to revitalize the union movement is inconsistent with the notion that the individual has the right to decide the proper ends of her life. Accordingly, the application of union dues to a variety of union efforts that are unrelated to collective bargaining must inescapably be seen as promoting a form of subservience to authoritarian unionist values, which would in turn submerge individual, ethnic, and gender identity, and ideological diversity in support of hierarchical aims.