If unions have in fact achieved much less by their wage policy than is generally believed, their activities in this field are nevertheless economically very harmful and politically exceedingly dangerous. They are using their power in a manner which tends to make the market system ineffective and which, at the same time, gives them a control of the direction of economic activity that would be dangerous in the hands of government but is intolerable if exercised by a particular group. They do so through their infl uence on the relative wages of different groups of workers and through their constant upward pressure on the level of money wages, with its inevitable inflationary consequences.
The effect on relative wages is usually greater uniformity and rigidity of wages within any one union- controlled group and greater and non- functional differences in wages between different groups. This is accompanied by a restriction of the mobility of labor, of which the former is either an effect or a cause. We need say no more about the fact that this may benefit particular groups but can only lower the productivity and therefore the incomes of the workers in general. Nor need we stress here the fact that the greater stability of the wages of particular groups which unions may secure is likely to involve greater instability of employment.
What is important is that the accidental differences in union power of the different trades and industries will produce not only gross inequalities in remuneration among the workers which have no economic justification but uneconomic disparities in the development of different industries. Socially important industries, such as building, will be greatly hampered in their development and will conspicuously fail to satisfy urgent needs simply because their character offers the unions special opportunities for coercive monopolistic practices. Because unions are most powerful where capital investments are heaviest, they tend to become a deterrent to investment—at present probably second only to taxation. Finally, it is often union monopoly in collusion with enterprise that becomes one of the chief foundations of monopolistic control of the industry concerned.
The chief danger presented by the current development of unionism is that, by establishing effective monopolies in the supply of the different kinds of labor, the unions will prevent competition from acting as an effective regulator of the allocation of all resources. But if competition becomes ineffective as a means of such regulation, some other means will have to be adopted in its place. The only alternative to the market, however, is direction by authority.
Such direction clearly cannot be left in the hands of particular unions with sectional interests, nor can it be adequately performed by a unified organization of all labor, which would thereby become not merely the strongest power in the state but a power completely controlling the state. Unionism as it is now tends, however, to produce that very system of over- all socialist planning which few unions want and which, indeed, it is in their best interest to avoid.