Among modern institutions, one stands out for the breadth of conservative priorities it could advance: generating widespread prosperity, limiting government intervention, preserving families and ways of life, revitalizing communities and fostering solidarity. That institution is the labor union.

“Conservative labor” might sound like an oxymoron, but America’s dysfunctional labor unions, creatures of Great Depression-era legislation and decades of political polarization, are neither inevitable nor typical of their counterparts elsewhere.

Concern for worker power and representation is as old as the discipline of economics. “Upon all ordinary occasions,” warned Adam Smith, employers “have the advantage in the dispute, and force [workmen] into a compliance with their terms.” John Stuart Mill, a favorite of modern libertarians, lamented that without sufficient union strength, “the laborer in an isolated condition, unable to hold out even against a single employer…will, as a rule, find his wages kept down.” He condemned those who did not “wish that the laborers may prevail, and that the highest limit [for wages], whatever it be, may be attained.”

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Oren Cass
Oren Cass is the executive director at American Compass.
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