“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as 'right-to-work.' It provides no 'rights' and no 'works.' Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining... We demand this fraud be stopped.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In no state is there a legal right to a job or a legal right to work. In no state is it legal to mandate union membership.
Indiana’s recent adoption of “Right-to-Work” (RTW) legislation means there are now 23 RTW states in the U.S. In states with RTW laws, it is more difficult to form and maintain a union and also to effectively bargain with the employers. In a time when working people are under attack, we need strong unions more than ever. The Indiana legislation moved in the wrong direction.
In the 27 non-RTW states, unions and employers can agree to contract language which requires employees who do not wish to join to pay a fee to the union when they are covered by the union contract and represented with equal diligence. This ability to reach an agreement about non-member fees is what Indiana has made illegal, gutting workers’ potential power and democracy.
The activist 1%, through the Chamber of Commerce, the National Right to Work Committee, and the American Legislative Exchange Council spent millions of dollars to promote RTW campaigns in 11 states, promising it would bring new companies, new jobs and higher wages. Only in Indiana did the campaign succeed, and only on the second attempt.
In reality, RTW legislation fulfills none of those promises. Economic Policy Institute studies found RTW actually decreases wages by $1,500 per year and adds no jobs. In Oklahoma’s ten years of experience as a RTW state, both the number of new companies relocating in the state and the number of manufacturing jobs have declined by a third. Further, by weakening the power of the unions, jobs in RTW states are less likely to come with employer-provided health care and a pension. (Details can be found at http://www.epi.org/publication/working-hard-indiana-bad-tortured-uphill/.)
The push for RTW laws is part of the ongoing generalized assault on the living conditions of the American working class. The weakness of the current economic recovery has further emboldened the 1% to step up the assault. January 2012 marked 23 consecutive months of net job growth in the private sector, yet unemployment remains over 8% and long-term unemployment is at historic highs. There are still 4 unemployed workers for every job opening. Consequently, wages have continued to stagnate and have actually lost value relative to inflation. Employers are pressing their advantage, demanding not only concessions, but the wholesale transformation of labor relations - both in the individual workplace and through legislation and court decisions that change the rules of the game.
In 2010, the weakness of both Obama and the economy swept Republican governors and legislators into power in many states across the country. In states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, Republicans moved quickly to adopt anti-union and anti-worker laws, often with Democrats in tow. Massive demonstrations in Wisconsin and the occupation of the Capitol did not prevent passage of legislation stripping most public workers of their collective bargaining rights. The subsequent campaign to recall the six vulnerable Republican Senators succeeded in replacing only two of them with Democrats. Millions of hours and dollars later, the law stands.
Ohio law allowed activists there to take a slightly different tactic, repealing the anti-union law rather than recalling the individual politicians who had supported it. Public sector unions in Ohio, particularly AFSCME, pulled out all the stops and succeeded in overturning Senate Bill 5 in the November 2011 election.
This significant victory - along with the new freedoms allowed by Citizens United and the possibilities embodied in the Occupy movement - further motivates the 1% to accelerate and diversify their attacks on workers in general and on unions in particular.
To counter the employers’ offensive effectively, workers must be able to fight back in the streets, in the workplace and at the ballot box. Protests are necessary but, no matter how huge and energetic, they are not enough. We need strong, democratic unions not afraid to shut down production and win real advances - not just hold the line on concessions. We need run our own worker candidates, independent of the two parties of the 1%, on a platform of a massive public works program to create jobs, improve Medicare for all, stop all foreclosures, and end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and bring those dollars home.