Public unions historically have organized to win and defend publicly provided services, such as education, public safety, transit and much more.
JEFF Rhodes of the Freedom Foundation wrote in a Seattle Times Op-Ed that working folks should rejoice because right-to-work “protections” will soon be coming to Washington.
But make no mistake, the protections would not benefit workers. Rather they would enhance the bosses’ ability to exploit employees to the maximum extent possible, leaving workers with few rights to collectively improve working conditions.
These anti-union laws make it illegal for a union to charge a fee to all those covered by a union contract. But a union is still required to represent everyone, even those who decide not to pay a dime. The resulting freeloader effect can bankrupt a union.
A look at the history of such laws reveals their true intent. They were first enacted in former slave states as a way to keep workers divided along racial lines and protect “convict leasing” laws. Convict labor was the way that bosses continued reaping profits from free prison labor, even after slavery was abolished.
The deceptive term “right-to-work” was coined by Texan Vance Muse, who was a white supremacist and political strategist, active in the 1930s and 1940s. He used racism to attack unions, decrying their role in bringing workers together across the color line.
Given the racist roots of the laws trumpeted by Rhodes and the Freedom Foundation, it was inappropriate to see such views expressed as the country prepared to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Dr. King knew the scam perpetrated by these laws. In a 1961 speech he said, “…we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone.”
The Freedom Foundation does not stop at attacking unions. Its “free-enterprise” agenda includes opposing government regulation of business, minimum wage laws and environmental protections. For good measure, it would deny women’s reproductive freedom and slash or privatize all public services.
To expose its agenda, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) picketed the Freedom Foundation’s annual fundraising dinner in September in Bellevue. Rank and file members of several unions, along with community supporters, loudly denounced the fundraiser and exposed the think tank’s agenda and common political goals with big business and wealthy conservatives, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Koch brothers.
No one was ready to give up the many things that unions have fought for and won — job safety regulations, seniority, the 8-hour workday, health care, pension plans and minimum wage laws, to name a few.
Rhodes goes after public-employee unions in particular. This is not surprising, since public workers are unionized at a rate five times higher than private-sector workers, who have been hammered by outsourcing, automation and anti-labor laws. Public-worker unions are a tempting target for a group that wants to exterminate all unions and roll back all the progress for the working class that has been won through a century of struggle.
Public unions have also historically organized to win and defend publicly provided services, such as education, public safety, transit and much more. That defense can be very effective when public unions join forces with the working people that need the vital services that its members provide.
Such labor and community solidarity could be a wall between the Freedom Foundation and its agenda of a corporate dominated society, where workers slave away with no rights and corporate elites pay practically no taxes.
Now that is one wall worth building.
By Linda Averill and Kirk Duncan
This was originally an op-ed published in the Seattle Times, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/misnamed-right-to-work-laws-exploit-workers/