Indentured Servitude?

This recent article in the New York Times critiques the increasingly common use of non-competition agreements by American employers.  Workers, even those in low-paid service work, are being required to sign agreements that open them to litigation if they leave their current employment and go to a competing organization.  Here is a link to the article:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/04/opinion/noncompete-agreements-workers.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=0

Labour markets to do not function like other markets.  For example, free market capitalism is predicated on the idea that markets will meet all needs.  However, if that was the case, there would be no unemployment or under-employment.  Instead, as Marx suggested, capitalism needs a surplus of labour to function (the reserve army of labour).  Another feature of free market labour (the term may be a misnomer) is that employers will seek to regulate workers in the event that labour shortages occur.  This is why indentured servitude was commonly used in the North American colonies and also why African slavery was so ubiquitous (especially in South America).  It is incorrect to assume that employers will simply continue to pay more to attract workers; they will also find ways to prevent them from moving on.

While non-compete agreements are most certainly not the same as slavery, it is very concerning that any restrictions on worker mobility are being imposed.  The right of American workers to engage in class action lawsuits is being challenged, and there is increasing imposition of mandatory arbitration by employers as an alternative.  This is all especially ironic since the political right and business community extols the idea of a “right-to-work” when it comes to union membership.


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