‘Right to work’ is a step backward for workers

Jamakaya, Columnist

Republican politicians, their corporate patrons and their cheerleaders on hate radio are gearing up to push “right to work” legislation on Wisconsin.

Everyone deserves the right to work. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Not.

“Right to work” is another perverse construction from the people who apply the euphemism “wise use” to environmental destruction and “class warfare” to appeals for economic justice. 

“Right to work” laws are another kick to the guts of the already-reeling labor movement, and attacks on labor unions are attacks on all working people, including you and me.

Union members are the folks whose blood, sweat and persistence over many generations won us all the right to collective bargaining, eight-hour workdays, weekends off (what a concept!), occupational safety regulations, workers’ compensation and child labor laws. None of these reforms would have been achieved without the power of organized labor.

Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 dealt a strong blow to public employee unions and the GOP-controlled Legislature is now poised to push “right to work.” Here’s what you need to know about this legislation in a nutshell:

When the majority of employees in a workplace vote to form a union to represent them in negotiations with management, all employees are required to pay to cover the expenses of that representation. 

This is only fair because all employees — even those who don’t like unions — benefit from the higher wages, improved working conditions and other advantages that result from collective bargaining. If a worker is fired and thinks he got a raw deal, for example, his union pays for the legal representation to appeal that firing. 

“Right to work” legislation allows individual workers to opt out of paying union dues despite the services their unions provide for them. It undermines the financial viability of unions and the entire concept of unions. That’s why “right to work” is so strongly supported by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and other business groups. They’re working overtime — and without time-and-a-half pay — to push the legislation with the help of their many front groups and their talk radio shills.

“Right to work” campaigns use the brutally effective corporate tactic of divide and conquer to destroy worker solidarity and to cripple the ability of unions to stand up to management. 

This affects us all, because organized labor may be the only countervailing force to the excesses of unrestrained capitalism. 

This is not Marxist rhetoric — the struggle is real. You can see it worldwide in the race to the bottom engaged in by huge corporations that make increasingly exorbitant profits by squeezing workers with the lowest possible wages. You can see it in secret trade agreements that exempt corporations from taxes, environmental regulations and the most elemental labor standards.

Proponents claim “right to work” will encourage job growth and prosperity. In fact, “right to work” laws drag down the wages and working conditions of all workers. In states with “right to work” laws, there is a higher percentage of jobs in low-wage occupations than there is in non-“right to work” states. On average, workers in “right to work” states make about $5,000 less than workers in states without such laws. There are higher rates of poverty, and the rate of workplace deaths is a whopping 36 percent higher in states with “right to work” laws.

If you would rather not see Wisconsin become the “Mississippi of the North,” contact your state legislators and the governor’s office today to say “no” to “right to work” legislation.