Let's say a POTUS is elected with a friendly SCOTUS and congress behind him. He hates how America's unions and labour rights have been crushed over the decades, and in response passes a very simple yet sweeping bill that mandates membership in a labour union to qualify for employment in a company in the United States.

This was his flagship election issue, arguing that things like the minimum wage, sexism, and even political bribery can be solved more effectively by strong unions (unions can buy politicians too); and more importantly, arguing that mandatory union membership is absolutely necessary, lest corporate America just crush them again.

You're part of the opposition, and you don't like this. Assuming this is a fantasy USA where you get crushed politically if you lie or try anything rhetorically; what can you do to argue against this? What downsides could come from this policy that to an abused labour force sounded like the solution to all their problems?

PS. Don't Nordic countries do something like this already? Tying welfare to union membership or something?

  • 2
    Do you mean any employment? Like, the CEO has to be part of a union, and all the top executives, and all the managers?
    – David Rice
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 19:28
  • "Assuming this is a fantasy USA where you get crushed politically if you lie or try anything rhetorically; what can you do to argue against this?" You should look up the word "rhetorically"; it strongly appears you don't know what it means. Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 21:25

6 Answers 6


Unions come with tons of problems that don't require lying or rhethoric. Among them:

  • Unions make things more expensive to make (due to rising labour costs, only some of which is because of higher wages. Most is because of gold-plated pensions and benefits; and lower productivity).

    While that can be seen as a benefit to an individual worker initially, it won't be seen as a benefit by 1000 workers who got laid off because their company either went bancrupt or even simply folded operations as not-worth-the-capital-expenses.

    Lay people have very little appreciation just how low margins are in some businesses, especially retail. Up the cost of doing business higher than your profit margin and you don't make enough profits to be worth having or investing in the business (or to cover expenses and debts).

  • As a special, extra bad version of the above, they may make labour costs high enough that it's cheaper to invest elsewhere in the world.

    So, either the company outsources to foreign labour, or if you make some "labour friendly" law taxing that practice (as Trump proposed in 2016 iirc), the investors simply invest in non-US company in the first place.

    Ergo, instead of extra 50% in the labourer's pocket for 1000 people, you have 100% less, plus tax revenue loss, plus economic multiplier from lost economic activity (those wages went into overall economy).

    Lest this sounds like empty politically biased theorizing, let's look at research:

    stronger labor unions still induce international outsourcing if firms’ decisions are made subsequent to wage-employment bargaining.

    (source: "Do Labor Unions Hinder or Boost International Outsourcing? Evidence from U.S. Manufacturing", Hsu, Kuang-Chung, The International Trade Journal)

  • Labour unions make it difficult to fire anyone.

    In some circumstances, that's good. The bad boss can't fire you for taking a day off to care for an ailing grandmother.

    Guess what? Every coin has two sides. If you're a good hard worker, you have to work extra hard, because NOW the boss also can't fire the lazy bum on your team who ain't pulling their weight and uses every excuse to work less hard. So you're pulling your weight AND part of his weight (this is a known factor - labour leaders would always defend even the worst workers against management, not out of any love for them but to avoid setting bad precedent).

    Oh, and in worst case scenarios, we have things like awful NYC teachers being paid to sit in empty rooms doing nothing. Thanks, unions.

  • Unions have been known to have tight links to organized crime back in their heyday. Or for that matter, as late as 1978. Also, see this testimony

    If you think that doesn't matter to individual worker, you're wrong. You upset a manager, you get a reprimand. You upset a union boss, you're gonna get a visit from tough guys.

    You upset enough people with your support for organized crime, and next election your union-friendly president and their union-friendly congress get booted out in favor of "law and order" guy (somewhat paralleling election of Rudy Guliani in NYC, I suppose).

  • Unions are just as corrupt as anything else with money and power. They can influence elections (in favor of whatever union bosses - not necessarily members - like), or buy politicians.

    Political machines being in bed with the union bosses has a long and storied history in USA. Or hell, let's pick a non-USA example, Mexico study: https://www.iq.harvard.edu/files/iqss/files/updated_march_6_paper.pdf

  • Cool, thx lad. That said; is there anything this POTUS could to possibly make such a plan work? As places like Finland have high rates of union membership and unless I'm missing something, they don't appear to be falling apart?
    – Tirous
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 0:46
  • 2
    @Tirous - funny how you chose Finland :) Look at its volume of GDP growth (or rather lack of it) in the chart here: weforum.org/agenda/2015/07/whats-happening-to-finland-economy. Obviously, doesn't mean it's caused by unions, but it definitely isn't a poster child for a successful economy
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 0:51
  • Cool. Gonna wait till tomorrow before picking yours; wanna wait on more answers.
    – Tirous
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 2:27
  • 3
    Now that is obviously all from a US point of view. UK unions work in a completely different way. German unions work again in a completely different way. In both countries, both US unions and the way some Americans look at unions are totally unimaginable.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 19:20
  • 1
    @gnasher729 - the question was 100% obviously about US, though. "POTUS is elected with a friendly SCOTUS"
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 23:25

It violates a person's right to free association.

All human beings have, by virtue of being born, the right to associate with whoever they like. This must obviously include the right to decline association with people they do not like.

If you don't want to join a club, that's your right. No explanation is required. nobody can make you.


The government is going to have a really tough time passing this sort of legislation because it's a pretty big violation of first amendment rights. This would be the government compelling people to associate with a union in order to work. This would be a really big perversion of the ideals that are behind the first amendment and the constitution in general.

Another problem is that forced union membership essentially creates the guild system, which is generally regarded as poor economic policy. Guilds/mandatory unions create a monopoly, and all monopolies eventually turn to rent seeking and become a drag on the economy rather than a benefit.

Mandatory unions are also somewhat dangerous to workers themselves. If a worker does something that angers union leadership and they get thrown out of the union that would essentially destroy that person's livelihood for the rest of their life. Such a person could try to get into a different union, but they would be starting over in a different career and may not have any transferable skills. This can still happen without unions, but the existence of unions can exacerbate the problem because switching from company A to company B won't solve things if your problem is with the union itself.

  • Paragraphs 2 and 3 seem to assume that unions have a monopoly for a specific line of work. In the real-world, this is not necessarily the case. At my place of work, there are three different trade unions competing for members. Also, when you make union membership mandatory, then it would not be a problem either to forbid unions from rejecting any members (as long as they pay their membership fee).
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 13:46

The greatest negative would be an exodus of jobs overseas. Unions today are just another inefficient management layer adding to the cost of making whatever the company makes, while there are hordes of countries that have no unions and dirt cheap labor, who will be happy to take that business away by selling the product for a lot less. Which is sort of happening anyway... requiring unions for all businesses would simply accelerate that process.

And remember, while union wages are higher, the union takes a big chunk of those wages in union dues.

In the years before OSHA, anti-discrimination laws, and other government programs to protect workers, unions served a useful purpose in protecting the workers from unsafe or exploitative working conditions, and providing a retirement fund.

But, in the work climate of the western nations today, with social services, retirement funds, and workplace safety regulations, there really isn't much need for unions anymore - laws now provide the protections and services that the unions once did.

It was uncontrolled unions and rising demands that all but obliterated the once thriving auto industry in the UK. When they weren't out on strike, the workers in UK auto plants in the 1960's and 1970's were doing a terrible job of putting cars together. Unfortunately for them, the Japanese auto manufacturers had no such problems...


When people join an organisation without conviction they rarely participate to their activities and assemblies. Such members would not fight to defend the organisation from external influences. So a mandatory participation would turn the unions in something similar to many modern parties, a phoney representation of the members subservient to the interest of the employers.


"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure". The reason unions are useful is because people form unions for them to be useful. Once you have people forming unions simply to comply with a law requiring unions, their utility will plummet.

As analogy, suppose the president decides that people who eat salads are healthier, and so gets a law passed that says that everyone has to eat at least one salad a week. People who are opposed to eating salads will just eat a tiny piece of lettuce and call it a "salad". So now you're going to have to have complicated criteria saying just what a "salad" is, and people are constantly going to be gaming the system, so you'll have to constantly update the criteria, and have people going around enforcing the criteria.

The concept of a "salad" is hardly clearly defined, but we don't need a good definition because people aren't motivated to nitpick about it. Similarly, the concept of a "union" isn't really well defined, but it's a useful term because people (for the most part) aren't motivated to fudge the meaning, but if you pass a law requiring people to be in a "union", you're going to have to have a solid definition.

What is a "union", exactly? An organization of workers that advocates for the workers' interests? Then people are going to start an organization of workers, have it send a few letters to management with perfunctory advocacy, and call it as "union". So, what, are you going to have a governmental agency charged with coming up with "minimum activity" requirements and launching investigations into unions to see if they're sufficiently "union"-like?

One of the biggest weapons of a union is the strike. Are you going to make participation mandatory? If not, then the union is going to be largely toothless. If you are, then this is more of a "mandatory strikes" proposal than a "mandatory unions" proposal. Allowing unions to force a strike by force of law would create a massive opportunity for abuse. It would give unions control of members' livelihoods, and provide a huge incentive for corruption.

Something else to keep in mind is the strong history of racism in unions. It's in the interests of people who are currently in the union to keep the supply of labor as low as possible. That means restricting access on any basis they can get away with, whether it's on the basis of onerous licensing requirements, immigration restrictions, racial segregation, or whatever else they can come up with. If only members of the union can work, then whoever seizes control of the union can restrict employment to only the people they like.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .