Friday, December 14, 2012
There is something wrong with the map to the right. Indiana- and Michigan, of all states!- have joined the ranks of those having a so-called "right-to-work" law. This is a disaster for the labor movement, for working people- and for America.
Please bear in mind that this somewhat idiosyncratic post is written by the son of a UAW shop committeeman whose middle name was "McKinley." I cherish my dad's tradition of thinking for myself rather than letting political ideology or group affiliation do my thinking for me, and there are few issues on which that penchant expresses itself more strongly in my heart than the travesty misnamed "the right-to-work law."
Dad- lifelong Republican that he was- thought that Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, which authorizes such laws, was an abomination. I agree.
It's not often that I agree with Michael Kinsley, and even more seldom that I agree with an article entitled "The Liberal Case against...." anything. But I commend this article to you (while noting with puzzled amusement that its URL renames the article "the conservative case for 'right to work' laws!").
Such laws have nothing to do with a "right to work." Rather, they establish a right to all of the benefits of union membership with none of the obligations. To whom does such a "right" appeal? Probably to less-than-thoughtful workers who think (wrongly) that they're getting something for nothing. But most of all, they appeal to employers whom they certainly enable to get a great deal for nothing.
It is true, as advocates of "right-to-work" laws maintain, that they draw business to the states which adopt them. There is a very simple reason for this: they're an effective union-busting tool which dry up union coffers, deprive working people of recourse when they are abused by their employers, and make it possible for employers to get away with bloody murder, thus operating at enhanced profit margins and making more money. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with making money (the current Democratic party to the contrary). But there is something very wrong with a company treating its employees like human garbage in order to make more of it.
It is no accident that Mississippi is the state which comes to mind most readily when any but the most brainwashed conservative hears the words "right-to-work state." The states which have "right-to-work" laws are the states with the lowest wages and benefits in the country. Such laws drastically drive down wages and usually make working conditions close to unbearable. I have the dubious pleasure of living in a "right-to-work" state- Iowa- at present; I grew up in Illinois, a state with many problems but at least with labor laws enlightened enough to enable those who work for a living to do so with a modicum of dignity.
One of the employers in the community in which I did my vicarage used to pull my supervisor's cork, and rightly so: its workers were not allowed to attend church. In Illinois, it is illegal for an employer to force an employee to work more than a specific number of days in a row. I imagine that there is a similar law in Iowa- there would almost have to be- but the number is far larger. The company in question required its workers to work seven days a week, giving them a day off only when required by law to do so. If an employee protested, he was simply informed that nobody forced him to work there.
Which was true. In some economies, that might even be a valid point. But certainly not in this one. And no employee should be forced to miss church because he doesn't have a union strong enough to ensure him that right.
Today "right-to-work" laws are especially attractive to companies trying to cope with a difficult business environment. Their attraction, it should be plainly stated, lies in the degree to which they enable companies to take advantage of the high rate of unemployment to force workers to accept jobs under unreasonable conditions. This is simply wrong.
Labor unions declined in influence in some measure because we had reached a point where corporations realized that it was in their long-term interest to treat employees as partners rather than opponents, and to make common cause with them. One doesn't need a strong union to protect one from a beneficent boss. But the collapse of the economy changed all that. Human nature is human nature, original sin is original sin, and the instinct to take advantage of the misfortune of one's fellow man is part of the package.
In fact, it's always been a very prominent part of the economic equation in some states.
The ones with "right-to-work" laws.
HT: Real Clear Politics