I'm not talking about typical clerks or medical assistants organizing into unions and what not. I put "white-collar unions" in quotation marks because I was referring to something else altogether: the likes of the American Medical Association, the Screen Actors Guild, the law bars, etc.
I was about to suggest the "nationalization" of all the related certification when I realized that states already certify professional education for petit-bourgeois purposes. This means, in many cases, giving certificate holders a license to do business in their field, such as in skilled trades.
So, how should these be tackled?
What were the characteristics of these medieval guilds? They were privately controlled in a hierarchy from guild masters to journeymen to craftsmen to apprentices who received nothing but accommodations and training. They operated mostly in the private sector of their day, having controlled most urban economies. They had lengthy periods of apprenticeship to restrict the number of entrants, their access to guild knowledge, and any potential for labour abundance in contrast to labour shortage. They prevented outside competition by having in operation the business license monopoly equivalent of a union-based pre-entry closed shop (whereby one has to belong to a particular union in order to obtain employment from a particular employer). On the other hand, they regulated themselves in an attempt to ensure high standards of product quality.
While it would seem that these guilds should be treated as little more than a historical footnote, one of the introductory passages in Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte applies here:
Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
This can and has applied to lesser things than revolutionary processes. Once more, the full anti-feudal revolution was never part of the program for bourgeois class struggle and bourgeois social revolution. Not only did the guild form of economic organization not go away, but also it has flourished. For example, much has been said by ultra-conservative demagogues in the United States about the follies of the so-called "Hollywood Left" - the politically active social liberals in Hollywood's entertainment industry - but one should look no further than the organizational and social hierarchy of the Screen Actors Guild, with bourgeois individuals at the top.
Besides the Screen Actors Guild, there are more important modern guilds to consider, guilds which point to the petit-bourgeois hypocrisy of those same demagogues and their ardent supporters: in medicine, in securities trading, in real estate brokerage, in public accounting, in law, in engineering, and in elsewhere. As a legal academic, Mike Macnair pointed to this hypocrisy in the area of law:
The double standards at work disclose a systemic bias of the legal profession and of its leaders in the judiciary in favour of business and against trade unions. The fact that they call this 'common law' in no way alters the matter. 'Common law' is nothing more than the historical continuity of the ideas of the legal profession, as they have developed over the last eight centuries.
This bias involves truly breathtaking hypocrisy. The Law Society is politely not called a trade union or a cartel, and neither are the Inns of Court or the General Council of the Bar. In reality all these organisations are guild corporate monopolies: 'trade unions' which have a pre-entry closed shop in operation. The monopolies are protected by statute law - unsurprisingly, given the number of lawyers there are, and historically have been, in parliaments and cabinets [...] By using their statutory monopolies to impose an apprenticeship requirement for qualification, the lawyers ration the numbers of new entrants and protect themselves from competition.
The lawyers' trade unions operate a pre-entry closed shop, whose results in the scale of legal fees are obviously opposed to the interests of the justice the courts purport to provide. And yet these hypocrites have the gall to maintain that other people's trade unions involve unlawfulness in (the lawyers') 'common law'.
Further analysis of these modern guilds can be derived from commentary in previous chapters:
1) The artificial labour shortages arising from control by modern guilds are high enough that skilled immigrants cannot get their education and experience credentials to be certified, and must settle for underemployment or a "career change" upon rejection;
2) Those ever-unproductive and self-employed service providers on mainly middle incomes are able to be in such a position because the closed-shop basis for those middle incomes - as opposed to high-wage incomes for albeit productive labour - is in fact an extraction of monopoly rent in the classical sense, and part of that in turn is allocated to guild administration in the form of dues; and
3) The modern intellectual property forms known as patents, trademarks can be traced to the legal privileges enjoyed by medieval guilds, and laws on the kind of trade secrecy practiced by modern guilds go as far back as Roman law punishing citizens who induced other citizens' slaves to disclose their respective masters' commercial secrets.
At first, it seems that the elimination of business license monopolies granted to modern guilds and the public takeover of the entire certification and related maintenance processes, as if the sphere of public education were extended, would suffice. After all, apprenticeships regulated by modern guilds can be replaced fully by cooperative education programs, the "combination of education with industrial production" (practical work experience) to quote Marx and Engels, all regulated on a fully public basis. Meanwhile, the rhetoric of self-regulation on the question of quality control is irrelevant; for example, much continuing education in the form of professional development contains more re-education than substantive professional development. This irrelevance, however, exists precisely because those two suggestions are not enough. In skilled trades, state examinations already play an integral role in the certification process.