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Wednesday, 21 November 2012 15:04

The right to a job does not exist

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op billofrightsBy Ken Jacobine • Guest Columnist

The idea of the United States of America was born during the Age of Enlight-enment (17th and 18th centuries). The great philosophers of that time challenged the divine right of kings by enunciating a new theory for the social order. The English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704), who claimed that man originally was born in a state of nature where he had the absolute rights of life, liberty, and property, articulated this new theory.

Thus, when Thomas Jefferson presented the Continental Congress with the document that would lay the foundation for our government and society, the Decla-ration of Independence, he included one of the most eloquent and oft quoted statements in the English language:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In essence, this one profound statement gives all Americans rights that cannot be taken away by any legal authority. The greatest of these rights is the right to property, which includes an individual’s body as well as possessions he/she has toiled to produce.

So, where is this treatise headed you might ask?

This Friday is Black Friday in the United States and to protest the labor practices of mega-retailer Walmart, some of its employees are planning nationwide walkouts. On the busiest shopping day of the year in the U.S., supposedly 1,000 picket lines are expected at Walmart stores across the country.

Specifically, the activism is meant to draw attention to what strike organizers call Walmart’s “retaliation against employees who speak out for better pay, fair schedules and affordable health care.”

Now, there is no question that Walmart employees are entitled to freedom of speech, guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, just like all other Americans. And they have enjoyed that right by virtue of the fact that none have been imprisoned or worse for speaking out against their employer. But, this action by disgruntled Walmart employees has really nothing to do with freedom of speech; it has everything to do with property rights.

In the employer-employee relationship, the employer has property rights to the business which includes, the buildings, inventory, and all other aspects of the enterprise (i.e. good will) not seeded to another entity. This also includes the paid positions made available to the public by the company. In this same relationship, the worker has property rights to his/her labor.

This arrangement is consistent with the right to property proclaimed in the Decla-ration of Independence. A right which includes an individual’s body as well as possessions he has toiled to produce (in this case the business enterprise) and is the reason why the hiring process includes the worker filling out an application, meeting to be interviewed, and negotiating an employment contract. Consequently, the right to one’s labor is an indispensable property of the individual.

But the job that he sells his labor to perform is the property of the business. Thus, the right to a job doesn’t exist because that would be a violation of the property rights of business owners.

Now, I realize there are such things as anti-discrimination laws, collective bargaining laws, and other acts of government that grant workers the right to em-ployment and job security. But they violate the unalienable right to property guaranteed first in the Declaration of Indepen-dence and then in the U.S. Constitution. They are also egregious representations of how far we have strayed as a nation from our original ideals of liberty.

If Wal-Mart employees are unhappy with their working conditions, they have a right to petition their employer within the confines of their labor contract. If their grievances are not met, the choice before them is to either continue to honor their labor contract or resign. The founding principle which gave birth to American liberty requires this.

(Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in Waynesvlle. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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