The Universal Union and the Recovery of the Commons

Thursday, November 10, 2022
3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

Presenter: Alan Thomas, University of York

Alan Thomas is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of York. His research is moral and political philosophy, political economy, and social epistemology. He is the author of Republic of Equals: Predistribution and Property-Owning Democracy (Oxford 2017) and, with Alfred Archer and Bart Engelen, The Moral Psychology of Inequality (Oxford, 2023).

What is the normative justification for trade unionism? Hitherto the focus of this debate is on the compatibility of individual liberty interests with the legal enforcement of 'closed shop' (or 'union shop') arrangements. It is argued that this focus is misleading as, in the order of justification, the private labour market is a permissible extension of a public labour market guaranteed, by default, by the state playing the role of employer of last resort. This is, in turn, a reflection of the monopoly powers of the modern state overland, labour and money. Every citizen of a monetarily sovereign state is a member of the public union. This suggests a general strategy for defending membership of unions, qua private associations, located in the private sphere. The argument is historically contextualised in the work of Fichte, Keynes, and Rawls.

This presentation is sponsored by Philosophy Department and part of the Fall 2022 Colloquium Series.

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Joshua Preiss

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