On June 28, the United States Supreme Court delivered a huge blow against federal workers in the United States, allowing so-called “Right-to-Work” to exist. Pressures will mount for it to spread to further American states, and there will be growing calls in Canada for the same.
What are Right-to-Work laws? The business lobby and political right says it is about “freedom” for workers, but what it really means is that workers benefiting from a union contract have no obligation to pay union dues. These people are often called “free riders”.
The undeniable result of Right-to-Work is not “freedom” but lower wages, worse benefits, bad working conditions, increase workplace injuries and deaths, more people in poverty, and attacks on public services – all because of deteriorating union strength. Economist Robert Reich lays out the basics in this video:
Where do Right-to-Work laws come from? They grew out of the American South in the 1930s and 1940s. It was a reaction to the major union drives of those years. The laws were brought in for two major related reasons. First, it was designed to block the “closed shop”, legally preventing unions from negotiating contracts where every worker covered by the contract had to pay union dues. But as this American video from LiUNA shows, Right-to-Work was also about upholding racist segregation in the American South. In short, Right-to-Work is part of the central employer strategy of divide and conquer, playing on racism, the “individualism” of fools, and also red-baiting.
With the new advance of Right-to-Work laws into more northern states like Wisconsin and Michigan, a third goal of this legislation is to undermine the financial base of unions to fund the Democratic Party. But this isn’t just about funding political parties, but robbing unions in general from being able to organize and campaign at a larger scale.
Is all lost? No. Thousands of American workers are organizing, fighting and even scoring victories in Right-to-Work states. As this IBEW video about a small parts plant in Indiana shows, it was a return to basic shopfloor organizing and door-knocking that started to win members back to the union. While not all employers are nearly as friendly as this video makes out, after decades of experience, American union organizers are clear that the best way to both prepare for Right-to-Work is to organize like it already exists.