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Labor's Day at the Federalist Society

Workers may get violent if their wages are cut. The United Auto Workers union (UAW) has a monopoly and was an anchor on the Big Three U.S. automakers. These two ideas were professed by two labor leaders at the recent Federalist Society Convention in Washington, D.C.

There may be violence, says Damon A. Silvers, Associate General Counsel for the AFL-CIO and Deputy Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for TARP. Silvers spoke on last Friday’s panel “Labor: Wall Street, Labor Unions, and the Obama Administration: A New Paradigm for Capitol and Labor?” Speaking to the panel, he claimed economic downturns which cause people to have their wages cut, can have devastating results.

Silvers pointed to wage cuts in Brazil and spoke of the violence which ensued. He argued that when people are starving they may get violent, that the have nots will take from the haves. Quickly cautioning that this could not happen in the United States, he smirked and added, “but it may.” Not so subtly, Silvers implied that if you cut union wages there may be violence.

Another gem from the convention came from Thursday’s lead discussion “Redistribution of Wealth.” One presenter, when asked what happened to the auto industry in regards to unions, stated, “Unions missed the most basic fundamental economic role they have to play, which is to take wages out of competition. What happened was when they had a monopoly or took wages out of competition for the Big Three people competed more inefficiently...When the transplants came…the union didn’t do its job, it was an anchor to the competitive field as opposed to a help.”

Which right leaning free-market intellectuals stated this fact? None other than any Andrew Stern, the president of the SEIU! That is correct, Andy Stern blamed the collapse of the Big Three in part to the union monopoly of the UAW and called it an anchor to competition.

More characteristically, Stern also spoke of redistribution of wealth saying, “I do no support, I condemn, the redistribution of wealth -- that is to say, the redistribution of wealth upwards.”

Advocating the redistribution of wealth? Cautioning of violence if wages are cut? Is this really the message top officials in the two largest labor unions want to be sending? Both Stern and Silvers knew their audience did not agree with them – Stern was sweating during his presentation – but did make an effort to speak to the constitutionally minded lawyers association.

Unfortunately, while tempered, their message was a clear endorsement of class warfare. Espousing unions as the only way for workers to get ahead in America, they chastised the Reagan era and directly blamed the demise of unions for what they claimed were lower worker wages. They ignored facts of other presenters showing that most workers' standard of living has actually gone up in the last 30 years.

Stern should be given credit for acknowledging that the UAW monopoly helped almost destroy the American auto industry. He must acknowledge that hard work, innovation, and ingenuity are the real engine of the American economy, not collective bargaining. The monopolistic nature of unions in many industries is a liability to both workers and unions. As Stern pointed out in the context of the failure of the U.S. auto industry, unions' inflexibility can drag down companies and work as a hindrance, not a help.