Were labor unions predicted by capitalist theory?

Anonymous asked this question on 7/11/2000:

Was the rise of labor unions predicted by early proponents of capitalism?

JesseGordon gave this response on 7/12/2000:

Did capitalism have "early proponents"? I think capitalism was the system in place when people started thinking about economics (like in the mid 1800s), so nobody actually had to be its "proponent."

To turn the question around, I'll answer instead the question: "Was the rise of labor unions predicted by early OPPONENTS of capitalism?". There, the answer is no, if you look at Karl Marx, one of the guys in the mid 1800s who developed the whole field.

Labor unions "solved" one of the great dilemmas that Marx saw in capitalism: Marx said that industrial bosses would pay the workers the minimum needed to keep them alive, especially as the population grew and more labor was more readily available. Hence the only way to improve the workers' situation was through revolution by the workers against the bosses.

Labor unions gave the workers power comparable to the bosses, and hence workers could demand -- and actually got -- better working conditions without revolution.

The government helped too -- that was the basis of the "Progressive Movement" led by Teddy Roosevelt and Louis Brandeis in the early 1900s. Their goal was to strengthen the workers relative to the bosses; unions were certainly "predicted" (or at least acknowledged) by them as a means to address a major problem of capitalism.

Anonymous rated this answer:

"Practitioners", "proponents", we're splitting hairs. The sense of the question was clear: Did early capitalists (Smith, et al) foresee labor unions?

JesseGordon gave this response:

No, neither early capitalists nor early communists foresaw labor unions. They were a political response and, in essence, a compromise that forestalled the introduction of either "unbridled capitalism" or the need for pure communism.

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