Skip to main content Accessibility help

Consent, Contestability, and Unions

  • Lars Lindblom (a1)


This article provides a normative justification for unions. It discusses three arguments. The argument from consent justifies unions in some circumstances, but if the employer prefers to not bargain with unions, it may provide very little justification. The argument from contestability takes as its starting point the fact that employment contracts are incomplete contracts, where authority takes the place of complete contractual terms. This theory of contracts implies that consent to authority has been given under ignorance, and, therefore, that authority cannot be justified by consent. Contestability is a mechanism that can handle this problem for consent theory. It demands transparency, channels for voice, and a forum where contestations can be evaluated. This idea can be implemented in firms in different ways, but the argument from the separation of powers implies that unions are uniquely suited to implement contestability, since they are organized outside of the employer’s domain of authority.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Consent, Contestability, and Unions
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Consent, Contestability, and Unions
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Consent, Contestability, and Unions
      Available formats



Hide All
Allen, Douglas W. 2000. “Transaction Costs.” In Encyclopedia of Law and Economics, Volume I. The History and Methodology of Law and Economics, edited by Bouckaert, Boudewijn and De Geest, Gerrit, 893926. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Beauchamp Tom, L., and Childress, James F.. 2001. Principles of Biomedical Ethics, 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bowles, Samuel. 2004. Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Brousseau, Eric, and Glachant, Jean Michel. 2002. “The Economics of Contract and the Renewal of Economics.” In The Economics of Contracts, edited by Brousseau, Eric and Glachant, Jean Michel, 330. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511613807.001
Cahuc, Pierre, Carcillo, Stéphane, and André Zylberberg, A. 2014. Labor Economics, 2nd ed. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Ciepley, David. 2013. “Beyond Public and Private: Toward a Political Theory of the Cooperation.” American Public Science Review 107: 139158.
DePillis, Lydia, and Tankersley, Jim. 2015. “To Fix Inequality, Democrats Are Pushing Unions.” Washington Post, March 13.
Dray, Philip. 2010. There is Power in a Union. New York: Anchor Books.
Feinberg, Joel. 1984. Harm to Others. New York: Oxford University Press.
Feinberg, Joel. 1986. Harm to Self. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Friedman, Milton. 1962. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Friedman, Milton, and Friedman, Rose D.. 1990. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement. Orlando: Harcourt.
Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1993. American Capitalism: The Concept of Countervailing Power. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
Godard, John. 2004. “A Critical Assessment of the High-Performance Paradigm.” British Journal of Industrial Relations 42: 349378.
Goodin, Robert. 2006. “Volenti Goes to Market.” The Journal of Ethics 10: 5374.10.1007/s10892-005-4593-7
Gourevitch, Alex. 2016. “Quitting Work but Not the Job: Liberty and the Right to Strike.” Perspectives on Politics 14: 307323.
Hayek, Friedrich A. 1960. The Constitution of Liberty. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Hsieh, Nien-hê, 2005. “Rawlsian Justice and Workplace Republicanism.” Social Theory and Practice 31: 115142.
ILO. 1948. Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87).
ILO. 1949. Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98).
Jaumotte, Florence, and Buitron, Carolina Osorio. 2015. “Power from the People.” Finance & Development 52: 2931.
Kant, Immanuel. 1983. Perpetual Peace and Other Essays. Indianapolis: Hackett.
Kaufman, Bruce E. 2016. “Experience with Company Unions and their Treatment under the Wagner Act: A Four Frames of Reference Analysis.” Industrial Analysis: A Journal of Economy and Society 55: 339.
Knight, Frank. 1921. Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Landemore, Hélène, and Ferreras, Isabelle. 2016. “In Defense of Workplace Democracy: Towards a Justification of the Firm-State Analogy.” Political Theory 44: 5381.
Lindblom, Lars. 2009. Consent, Contestability and Employer Authority.” Revue de Philosophie Économique 10: 4779.
Locke, John. 1980. Second Treatise of Government. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.
Luce, R. Duncan, and Raiffa, Howard. 1957. Games and Decisions. New York: Wiley.
Malleson, Tom. 2013. “Making the Case for Workplace Democracy: Exit and Voice as Mechanisms of Freedom in Social Life.” Polity 45: 604629.10.1057/pol.2013.20
Malleson, Tom. 2014. After Occupy: Economic Democracy for the 21st Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199330102.001.0001
McMahon, Christopher. 1994. Authority and Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
McMahon, Christopher. 2013. Public Capitalism: The Political Authority of Corporate Executives. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Milgrom, Paul, and Roberts, John. 1992. Economics, Organization and Management. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
Montesquieu, Baron de. 2011. The Spirit of the Laws. New York: Cosimo Classics.
Nozick, Robert. 1974. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books.
Nozick, Robert. 1997. Socratic Puzzles. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Olsaretti, Serena. 1998. “Freedom, Force and Choice: Against the Rights-Based Definition of Voluntariness.” Journal of Political Philosophy 6: 5378.10.1111/1467-9760.00046
Pettit, Philip. 1997. Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pettit, Philip. 2000. “Democracy, Electoral and Contestatory.” Nomos 42: 105144.
Pettit, Philip. 2001. A Theory of Freedom. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Resnik, Michael D. 1987. Choices. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press.
Rosenfeld, Jake. 2014. What Unions No Longer Do. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Rossiter, Clinton, ed. 1961. The Federalist Papers. New York: Mentor Books.
Saad, Lydia. 2015. “Americans’ Support for Labor Unions Continues to Recover.”, August 17, 2015.
Singer, Abraham A. 2017. “The Corporation as a Relational Entity.” Polity 49: 328351.
Solow, Robert. 2015. “The Future of Work: Why Wages Aren't Keeping Up.” Pacific Standard, Aug 11, 2015.
Vandenberghe, Ann-Sophie. 2000. “Labor Contracts.” In Encyclopedia of Law and Economics, Volume III. The Regulation of Contracts, edited by Bouckaert, Boudewijn and De Geest, Gerrit, 541560. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
White, Stuart. 2013. “Association, Freedom of.” In The International Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by LaFollette, Hugh, 373382. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Yates, Michael D. 2009. Why Unions Matter, 2nd ed. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Zuckert, Michael. 2012. “On the Separation of Powers: Liberal and Progressive Constitutionalism.” Social Philosophy and Policy 29: 335364.10.1017/S0265052511000331
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Business Ethics Quarterly
  • ISSN: 1052-150X
  • EISSN: 2153-3326
  • URL: /core/journals/business-ethics-quarterly
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed