Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Unions, Minimum Wage, and Immigration

Brothers and sisters, as many of you know, I am a proponent of open immigration. I don't like quotas, believing as I do in America as a sanctuary for the 'huddled masses, yearning to be free'. I am particularly loath to discuss immigration economic effects, since to me they are a necessary consequence of following our principles, while others are motivated by those effects into deigning to allow it. Also, I'm not an economist, having not even the learning to carry an economist's backpack. This, then, will be a rare quench for those thirsting from the drought of my opinion on these matters.

In the historically common phenomenon of labor unions supporting immigrant workers, a new low has been reached. This time the labor unions are not nobly engaged in pursuit of better working conditions or higher wages per se for their members. This time they're trying to obtain new members by creating new immigrants.

It has become clear that the labor unions are behind the recent protests by various immigrant groups across the country; equally clear is that their primary goal is citizenship for the illegal immigrants, as demonstrated in this fairly reasonable position paper from the United Food and Commercial Workers.

In cities across the country in recent weeks, rallied by Spanish-language media, the Democratic Party, and union ringleaders, legal and illegal immigrants shuffled down urban streets alongside the organizers and various leftoverist copycats to demand "immigration reform", which is apparently the newest euphemism for a mass amnesty.

They marched for dignity, with the full decorum of recess at a day-care center. As could be expected from prospective citizens eager join society, they patriotically waved Mexican flags and signs declaring the imminent return to Mexico not of themselves, as would befit the legal status of many of them, but of California and other areas in the Southwestern US. The Reconquista, they call it. Originally the term referred to the rechristianization of Spain and Portugal after Moorish occupation in the period between AD 718 and 1500. Mexican writers Carlos Fuentes and Elena Poniatowska saw a parallel with the growing Hispanic population in the U.S., and the term was picked up by radical elements who desired a Mexican California. Reconquista is supported by over 58% of Mexicans.

Like most other irredentist movements, it has somewhat less support in the target population, in this case those of us North of the border. This odd patriotism may partly explain the backlash against the first weekend of marches.

When union leaders and Democratic Party strategists learned that Americans were shocked and outraged by media images of what they were to assume were Mexican citizens carrying Mexican flags and showing disrespect for the American flag, they planned a response.

At the rallies on Monday of the next week, marchers had been told to leave their Mexican flags at home. Organizers reportedly had barrels full of American flags to hand out, and would collect the Mexican flags to keep them out of sight of the cameras. Of course, it wasn't long before a marcher literally wrapped himself in the American flag, wearing it as a garment, not realizing that he was again sending the wrong signal to those who understand flag etiquette.

So what is the point of citizenship for illegal immigrants? As citizens, they could join U.S. labor unions. Since union membership has been dropping, both as a percentage of the work force and in real terms since about 1980, unions have to add to their numbers or be marginalized as a political force. This is their chance.

For American citizen workers, the minimum wage and OSHA rules have obviated the need for a union. For most people, a union adds a layer of protection they don't need, and would artificially impede their progress toward bettering their own situation. What prospective union organizers attribute to fear of retribution is in reality more often simple reasoned self-interest.

I'd like to take a little side-trip and discuss the minimum wage and its analog, union wages. In both cases, a minimum wage is set to assure that anyone working (either in the union or in the entire workforce in the case of the minimum wage) is paid above a certain level. Both union wages and minimum wage have the effect of decreasing the number of workers an employer can hire. There are many people standing on Americas street corners because the minimum wage or a union minimum keeps them there.

A common syllogism broached by unionizers, minimum wage whiners, and the like, goes something like this:
  • A. The pay scale for everyone has remained the same for a long time.
  • B. Everyone needs a raise because of inflation and because we just deserve it.
  • C. The pay scale must be raised for everyone!

Missing is the part where an individual moves up the pay scale from bottle washer to chief cook. In other words, the scale can stay the same forever if individuals ascend it.

Union wages also force the companies that employ union labor to limit the number of workers. Unions trade higher pay for members for the jobs of those unable to work alongside them.

While the Federal minimum wage [3] has been kept at $5.15 since 1997, state and local minima have been adjusted above that level. The city of Santa Fe, New Mexico has a local minimum wage of over $9. It seems appropriate to account for regional costs of living and job markets by allowing a State to effectively set its own minimum.

Back to our story. The labor unions know that they are obsolete. The functions they performed have been subsumed by the government. They have nothing to offer immigrants -- except citizenship, which will make the immigrants eligible for all the benefits offered to citizens. And the grateful immigrants would support the union, with its every-higher wage demands, until the day when they will be the Americans who won't do the jobs which some new group of immigrants will.

The phrase 'jobs Americans won't do' dresses up a glaring falsehood. It is not the case that there is a single job that Americans will not do -- given the proper compensation. What those using the phrase really mean is that there are employment situations Americans won't accept, and for those jobs we need to find someone who is more desperate for work. Unwilling to pay what the minimum and union wages have set as the scale, employers are reaching out across the border to those who in their desperation will work harder, and for less.
Is that not a direct consequence of the minimum wage and its union counterpart?

Since we appear to be stuck with this foolish minimum wage, let us at least keep the Federal minimum where it is, if it can't be lowered, and allow States to set their own minima.

Supporters of the minimum wage will no doubt label this entire post to be right-wing extremism. It is rather a simple recognition of the reality that if there is a minimum wage, there will always be jobs which disappear, or which employers are forced by simple economic necessity to give to the foreigner sojourning among us.

As I said, I'm all for immigration. I just want the people who come here to want to be Americans, not simply workers -- or a source of dues.