Worker Blacklists: What’s the Libertarian View?

I think this is a really interesting discussion point and I would love to know what other Libertarians’ views on the matter are…

© Roland Tanglao

Thousands of construction workers have been secretly blacklisted and denied jobs on building projects like the London Olympics, the Sunday People can reveal.

And many of them still do not know why they cannot find work.

Their names were passed to more than 40 construction firms including Balfour Beatty, Sir Robert McAlpine and Laing O’Rourke.

Now I think we can all agree that every employer should be free to employ whomever they please on whatever terms are agreeable to both parties. And also be free to refuse employment to anyone they wish on whatever grounds they wish.

However I believe blacklists sit in a grey area. They almost strike me as a form of libel against the blacklisted worker. And in my eyes the data held has three significant weaknesses. It could be circumstantial, subjective and or no longer relevant.

Anyway, I would be really interested in people’s opinions on this topic and specifically why you think these lists exist? Are they the unintended consequences of poor regulation? Are they legal? Could a newspaper get away with publishing stories based on similar evidence? And do you think the workers on these lists have the right to sue? And or a realistic chance of winning?

  16 comments for “Worker Blacklists: What’s the Libertarian View?

  1. Dec 2, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    “The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (‘TULRA’) forbids employers refusing to employ someone or treating them unfairly because of trade union membership or participation in trade union activities, or conversely because they refuse to join a trade union or eschew trade union activities.”

    Is it possible that rather than being able to simply add “No UNISON”, or whatever they wanted to job adverts companies started a secret process for screening people out who they felt were more likely to strike (i.e. less likely to do what employers pay them for) than other workers? That would be more than undertsandable. The legislation is effectively empowering trade unions above other kinds of institution, enabling them to behave unnaccountably. Some are more equal than others obviously.

    Of course, once the list became operational, mistakes were inevitable. I have sympathy for the worker in the article who reported something unsafe and got himself on a list.

    • Dec 2, 2012 at 4:24 pm

      It’s not just unions there are a whole host of things you are no longer able to discriminate on — age, gender, etc. I’m not even sure you’re technically allowed to advertise a job as “Graduate” any more.

      • Dec 2, 2012 at 5:29 pm

        You think girls and black workers were on the list?
        (I know they weren’t, but would be good to clarify)

  2. Dec 2, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    People blacklisted for their political affiliations eh? Who’d’ve thunk it? Perhaps this is why some people are so paranoid that they’ll only comment anonymously and not at all on Twitter.

    Having said that, credit rating agencies perform a similar (though rather more legitimate) function. If there’s something simple to attack here I would go for the secrecy; secret “evidence” cannot be challenged.

    • Dec 3, 2012 at 9:10 am

      You have the inherent ability to improve you credit rating by getting a better job, managing your finances better, etc. It seems once you’re on one of these black lists there is little or nothing you can do about it.

      As for being worried about my political views, if employers don’t get that Libertarian tends to mean supporter of hard work, non-violence, contract law, and business then they’re a f*ck*ng idiot and you shouldn’t be working for them.

      • Dec 3, 2012 at 10:48 am

        …if employers don’t get that Libertarian tends to mean supporter of hard work, non-violence, contract law, and business then they’re a f*ck*ng idiot and you shouldn’t be working for them.

        I’ll be sure to repeat that to all the businesses I deal with before I agree to take their money in future. (Sarcasm)

    • Dec 3, 2012 at 9:10 am

      Strangely I’m okay with ideological discrimination. It’s one of two or three kinds we need to protect, but I wouldn’t like it to happen to me without me knowing about it.

  3. Paul Marks
    Dec 3, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    It is not ideological discrimination – a building company could not care less what political beliefs someone has.

    What matters is what people DO – if someone is a union ACTIVIST (out to wreak the company) someone would have to be crazy to employ them.

    But as Simon pointed out, it is actually illegal to act sensibly.

    Hence the rise of private lists.

    • Dec 3, 2012 at 2:07 pm

      We agree, but phrase it differently. Let me unpack the thinking a bit more.

      I see a right to discriminate on ideological grounds, because I have a right to a) have a mind and use it, which requires that b) we own our lives and property and therefore I can c) act in my self interest. The right to discriminate is a further consequence d) to discriminate in my economic interest.

      More simply, if one is of free mind and free to think and act, then if one observes or is advised that a person is more trouble than he is worth, then point d above means not hiring the troublemaker.

      The hypothetical hiring manager is not directly engaged in ideological discrimination but in economic calculation. His primise though is that becuase the troublemaker might be, say an altruistic ideologue bent on progessive wealth redistribution, rather than an (also ideologically) honest trader, then it is wise to suppose his economic value is lower. Asking the person not to discriminate is asking them to a) stop thinking b) suffer economic harm which adds up to asking someone to c) be a mindless slave to your ideological goal and d) nullifies thier right to thier life. I suggest, d2 is not a nice ideological position to take.

    • Dec 3, 2012 at 5:28 pm

      It is not ideological discrimination – a building company could not care less what political beliefs someone has.

      It’s not obviously something that we would think should be illegal, but it did involve treating people as a group rather than as individuals, which we oughtn’t approve of.

      The Mirror article showed that the government was providing the information. I think that’s a key issue: a building company might not care about political views, but with the government involved one might suspect this could serve as a handy way to persecute political dissidents.

  4. Dec 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    The simplistic libertarian answer might be to say that market forces determine that if the blacklist contains a material number of inaccuracies, those using them will be at a commercial disadvantage as they will not have access to the widest possible pool of talent. But of course this doesn’t really work as if the list enables the company to avoid 90% of known troublemakers, it’s no great loss if some of the people on the list are there incorrectly.

    For me the debate is about inaccurate information about the individual. What rights, if any, should the individual have to know that such information exists so that they can correct it? Is information about you a part of your property rights? Is incorrect information about you a violation of your property rights? I think it would be a stretch to argue that.

    Most libertarian “philosophy” was devised before the advent of the information age. The philosphies don’t need changing, but they need interpreting for the information age.

    • Dec 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm

      Re: others’ comments above. It does rather seem like we wouldn’t be faced with this issue if it weren’t for a combination of daft legislation and active government collusion.

    • Dec 5, 2012 at 9:50 am

      I certainly think that if it were easier to fire people there would be less need for blacklists as the consequences of making a poor employment decision would be reduced.

      However these lists have the potential to cause unlimited financial damage to people. And imagine what would happen if the boot were on the other foot. If I were to start a campaign suggesting that Starbucks put lead in their coffee what do you think would happen given it is a completely baseless accusation?

  5. Paul Marks
    Dec 3, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Yes RWH

    It is the daft legislation that is the key.

    • Dec 3, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      Agreed. Of course, the right to rationally discriminate includes a responsibility to do so based on accurate information. An out of date or vexatiously composed list is as bad as a group generalisation. Irriational discrimination will hurt both parties and if it is being done openly and above board then it would be a lot more likley to function properly than if it is pushed underground.

      The basic problem is authoritians insisting we forget about the real world and in live in their dream world. Evasion – the mother of all sins.

  6. Paul Marks
    Dec 5, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Rob Waller.

    Starbucks do NOT put lead in their coffee. Whereas the people on these lists ARE union activists.

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