Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

The Unions Must Fight Against Right to Work!

Republicans in Congress have introduced amendments to the National Labor Relations Act and Railway Labor Act aimed at crippling the right to organize a union. Such national “Right-To-Work” legislation has long been on the wish list of the right wing and big business and is aimed at gutting the ability of the unions to finance themselves and fight back against the bosses’ agenda. The proposed legislation would target the union shop and the unions’ right to collect fees for representation.

John Leslie

February 2, 2017
Facebook Twitter Share

Image from PolitiFact

These laws, with their roots in the Jim Crow segregated South, have spread to 27 states. In every state where RTW has passed, the income of working class households has fallen and the unions have been weakened by attacking the unions’ dues base and the union shop.

Last week, the heads of the construction unions — the Carpenters, Laborers, Plumbers and Pipefitters, Sheet Metal Workers – met with Trump to talk about infrastructure spending, praising his decision to dump the Trans Pacific Partnership. Previously, AFL-CIO top Rich Trumka and Teamster head Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. had met with the President and expressed their willingness to work with him.Hopefully, these bureaucrats can come to their senses after their meetings with Trump and fight in the interests of working people.

The campaign for RTW began in the South, where reactionaries played on the fear that unions would lead to “race-mixing and communism.” Fourteen states passed RTW legislation by 1947, the same year the Taft-Hartley slave labor bill was enacted by Congress. One provision of Taft-Hartley made it legal for states to pass so-called Right-To-Work laws. In all, 27 states have passed such laws. The latest state to pass RTW is Kentucky, where the new GOP majority passed a law in their first days in office.

With the ascension of Trump to the White House and Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress, the danger of a national Right-To-Work Law is very real. Trump, playing the populist during the campaign, talked up his support for hard working union members. At the same time he was clear about his support for RTW. Forty three percent of union households reportedly voted for Trump.

“We’ve had great support from union] workers, the people that work, the real workers, [but I love the right to work,” Trump said.”I like it better because it is lower. It is better for the people. You are not paying the big fees to the unions. The unions get big fees. A lot of people don’t realize they have to pay a lot of fees. I am talking about the workers. They have to pay big fees to the union. I like it because it gives great flexibility to the people. It gives great flexibility to the companies.”

Many Democrats have been supportive of RTW provisions, notably former Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine, who “supported Virginia’s right-to-work law since he ran for governor in 2005, and…that position has not changed.”

What RTW does

The very name “Right-To-Work” is deceptive — a linguistic trick meant to legitimize union busting and scabbing. By situating the issue in terms of an affirmative right, the bosses obscure the real intention of the law. It’s a deception very much akin to the right wing’s use of “right to life” to define their opposition to a woman’s right to choose. Rightist writer William Safire praised the commonplace usage of the term Right-To-Work as a “linguistic victory for management.”

RTW in no way guarantees anyone the right to a job. What RTW does say is that workers have the right to work in a workplace with union representation but without having to pay any sort of fees or dues to the union for that representation. Of course, Federal law requires that the union represent all workers under their protection – even those who refuse to pay dues. This provision undermines the power of the union by banning union shops and saps the financial resources of the union.

States with RTW legislation on the books have lower wages (on average $6,109 annually) and benefits than states without these laws. Living standards, measured in terms of access to education (spending 32.5% less per pupil), health care, infant mortality, workplace safety, and poverty, are lower in RTW states.

The passage of a National RTW law would be the culmination of more than 30 years of a one-sided class war against US workers. This union busting frenzy kicked into high gear with Reagan’s destruction of the PATCO air traffic controllers’ strike and has continued as unions have been pushed to the wall with demands for concessions.

Build a fight back!

Fighting RTW must be one of the main priorities of the labor movement and the left in the coming period. Our goal should not be limited to stopping this reactionary anti-worker legislation. Instead, we should be strategizing a road forward that rolls back RTW and builds union power in the workplace and society.

We have to turn the defensive struggles against the attacks of workers and the oppressed into an offensive against the capitalist system. Continued subordination of the unions to the Democrats only helps to reinforce our weaknesses. Building trades tops who met recently with Trump noted that not once during Obama’s two terms did he meet with union leaders. Candidate Obama, during the 2008 campaign, had promised to lace on “a pair of comfortable shoes and…walk on that picket line with you…” Early in Obama’s first term, when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, they failed to pass any meaningful pro-labor legislation. The often-promised Employee Free Choice Act was forgotten. We can’t depend on capitalist courts or politicians to defend us. It is only through the independent self-organization of working people that we can prevail.

Mass mobilization, united front mass actions and political independence are crucial elements of a fight back. Looking at the struggle in Wisconsin against anti-worker legislation put forward by Scott Walker, the labor movement and its allies hit the streets and occupied the Capitol in defiance of court orders and intimidation. The movement faltered when it was diverted into campaigns for Democrats — some of them with poor records on labor questions. Since the passage of the Wisconsin law, union membership in that state has fallen by 40 percent. Prior to the law, about 8 percent of the workforce in Wisconsin were union members. Wisconsin has lost more than 136,000 union members since 2010.

The labor movement should take a page from the recent Women’s March and the mobilizations in solidarity with immigrants following Trump’s racist Muslim ban. Now is not the time for business as usual. Now is the time to mobilize the power of the working class. Mass mobilization is just one weapon in our arsenal. Work stoppages and other jobs actions are necessary. This includes preparing union members and their supporters to engage in a general strike.

The general strike is a tactic that has rarely been employed in the US. The Great Railroad Strike of 1877, which lasted 45 days, involved thousands of workers in five states. Pennsylvania was the center of intense strike action. During the strike waves of the 1930’s, the general strike was used in Minneapolis during the Teamster strike and in San Francisco when the longshore strike there spread beyond the waterfront. Probably the most famous US general strike occurred in Seattle in 1919. The Seattle strike lasted for 5 days and idled 65,000 workers. The general strike committee ran the city of Seattle making sure essential items like milk for children were delivered. The Seattle action resulted in a temporary dual power situation. The question of the general strike is a serious one for revolutionaries requiring preparation inside the unions and other working class organizations.

In the struggle against Trumpism, we should give our trust only to reliable allies. Too often, Democrats have taken money and support from unions only to stab us in the back later. Tim Kaine’s support for RTW is one example. Another is Democratic NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney’s alliance with GOP Governor Chris Christie’s attack on New Jersey public employees. Sweeney, an official of the Ironworkers’ International union, scabbed against teachers and state workers in a detestable manner. Too often, private-sector unions have lined up against public sector unions.

Building real solidarity, including unconditional support for the struggles of other workers, is essential. Our unions must be re-energized with the type of spirit our predecessors possessed when they built the CIO. We must build fighting unions instead of groveling for crumbs at the bosses’ table.

This article was originally published on Resistance: A Journal of Marxist Politics

Facebook Twitter Share

United States

A horizontal testing scantron with almost all of the bubbles filled in

The Changes to AP African American Studies Are “Absolutely Political”: A Former College Board Worker Speaks Out

A former College Board worker explains how the company's "apolitical" pedagogical approaches privilege right wing ideas, even as the right wing accuses them of spreading "wokeism."

Jess DuBois

February 4, 2023

Massive Looting of Public Resources at Stake in District Detroit Redevelopment Scheme

Billionaire developers in Detroit have proposed capturing almost one billion dollars in public money to fund their newest project. The deal is far from sealed, but organized community opposition will be necessary to prevent approvals from sailing through.

Rita Singer

February 3, 2023

In Standoff Over Cop City, Police Are the Real Terrorists

For over two years, the protests and occupations against a police training center in Atlanta, Georgia flew under the radar of the mainstream press. Now, after the police murder of land defender Manuel Teran and the arrest of 19 protesters on charges of domestic terrorism, the standoff has gained national attention. But in the battle to defend the Weelaunee Forest and the people of Atlanta from the development of the massive “Cop City” training center, it is the Atlanta Police Department and the state that have been acting like terrorists.

James Dennis Hoff

January 27, 2023

Say His Name! Justice for Tyre Nichols

As the video footage of the police murder of Tyre Nichols is released today, it will be important for everyone who is against police violence to stand in solidarity and defend and join in the mobilizations demanding justice for his murder.

Tristan Taylor

January 27, 2023

MOST RECENT

Protesters after the murder of Tyre Nichols.

‘We Shall Not be Moved’: Maintaining and Uplifting Black Struggle during Black History Month

This Black History Month, let's raise the banner of Black liberation and the need for a revolutionary socialist strategy that, among other things, shows the inextricable link between class exploitation and racial oppression.

Tristan Taylor

February 6, 2023
All That's Left, the podcast from Left Voice.

#AllThatsLeftPod: A History of the U.S. Revolutionary Left and Trotskyism

In this episode of the podcast, we're joined by historian Bryan Palmer to discuss the origins of the U.S. revolutionary left and Trotskyism, James P. Cannon, and socialists' role in class struggle in the 1920s and 30s.

Left Voice

February 6, 2023
High-angle view of protests in France on January 31 against President Macron's pension reforms.

Historic Protests in France: Where to for the French Working Class?

After two of the largest days of protest in over a decade, with unprecedented union support and student turnout, the workers and youth of France must push unions to take up a militant strategy to defeat not only this latest pension reform but also Macron and his government.

Antoine Ramboz

February 6, 2023
Polish soldiers, a zoom-in on a Polish flag on their uniform.

Poland Plans to Become the Most Powerful Military Power in Europe

The war in Ukraine has become a powerful driver of the militarization and rearmament of NATO member countries. Poland now plans to double its military spending with the goal of building the largest land army in Europe.

Otto Fors

February 6, 2023