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  • corned_beef_dude corned_beef_dude Dec 13, 2012 11:13 AM Flag

    "Right to Work" Isn't a Civil Right. But Unionizing Should Be

    The adoption of so-called "right to work" legislation in Michigan, of all places, represents an historic setback for organized labor. First, Republicans went after public employees in the birthplace of public unions, Wisconsin. And now they have taken the fight to private employee unions in the cradle of modern industrial unionism. Conservatives are right that, if they can win in Michigan, they can win almost anywhere.

    Despite the arguments advanced by right to work proponents that they are trying to make Michigan more attractive to businesses, this legislation was a calculated effort by conservatives and business interests like the Koch brothers to redistribute political power from Democrats to Republicans (hence the exemption for police and firefighters, who are friendlier to Republicans) and from workers to employers. Previously in Michigan, no one was forced to join a union, but workers who benefited from collective bargaining were required to pay fees to cover the cost of that bargaining. The new law eliminates that requirement, allowing employees to benefit without paying a fee, thereby weakening unions’ ability to participating in politics and negotiate for better wages. As President Obama noted, right to work legislation is really about "the right to work for less money."

    Nevertheless, there is an important lesson for liberals and labor in the Michigan story about the power of rhetoric. "Right to work" is a mendacious slogan but a politically resonant one. It's mendacious because everyone in every state has the right to work; the legislation simply gives employees the right to be free riders--to benefit from collective bargaining without paying for it. Yet members of the media mostly employ the phrase without qualification. (Even those that say "so-called" right to work repeat the phrase over and over again.) This past Saturday, the Washington Post'sfront page featured stories on gay marriage going before the U.S. Supreme Court and the right to work debate in Michigan--and a casual reader could assume that both stories were about "rights" ascendant.

    The brilliance of the slogan is that it pits the individual's "right" to choose whether to pay dues (and who likes paying dues?) against the interests of large institutions (labor unions). Labor responds with a justifiable plea about the need for workers to be united and pay their fair share for representation (and, ultimately, better wages). But when the fight is framed as individual rights vs. solidarity, rights usually win. Indeed, when asked to identify government's most important role, 59 percent said in a 2010 Rasmussen poll that it is to protect individual rights and liberty.

    Rather than continuing the losing battle of solidarity vs. rights, it's time for liberals and labor to engage in the battle over what kind of rights workers should enjoy. The most vivid way for labor to recapture the rhetoric of "rights" is to propose amending the Civil Rights Act to make it illegal to fire or otherwise discriminate against employees for trying to organize a union. Currently, employers frequently target the ringleaders in a union drive, terminate their employment, and scare everyone else, paying only very modest financial penalties for violating our labor laws. Making this behavior illegal under the Civil Rights Act would substantially toughen penalties and help Americans understand that such abusive employer behavior involves a violation of the basic individual right to choose to join a union. It would be much harder for legislators to vote against "civil rights" for workers than it is for them now to oppose "labor law reform."

    Some members of the labor movement are beginning to talk about labor organizing as a civil right. In Canton, Mississippi, the United Auto Workers has been arguing that “worker rights is the civil rights battle of the 21st Century” as its tries to gain collective bargaining for a mostly black workforce at a Nissan Motors plant. If successful, this effort would provide a powerful response to opponents of labor – in the heart of the anti-labor South no less.

    If organized labor is to survive in the United States, it can't just fight against the idea of individual rights. Instead, it needs to embrace them in a new campaign that makes Americans understand that the right to organize is being violated by employers every day -- and that the winners are the 1 Percent and their Republican allies.

    Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation and Moshe Z. Marvit is a labor and civil rights attorney. They are coauthors of Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy By Enhancing Worker Voice (2012).

    December 13, 2012 | 12:00 am
    Bill Pugliano/Getty Images News/Getty Images

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    • sdmiller4747 Dec 13, 2012 9:23 PM Flag

      Then we all agree that Unions are a shakedown of members for benefiting the Democratic Party in Washington! And along the way Unions make the Ruling Elites at the top of the Unions RICH! If you want to live the life of a lower middle class person for the rest of your life, join a union.

    • Republicans are brilliant at exploiting the always present (if sometimes latent) American propensity to believe we are all isolated actors in a benign meritocracy. This propensity makes it possible and even simple for the farmer cashing huge subsidy checks to believe his success is entirely due to hard work, for the non-dues-paying employee in a union shop to believe that he derives no benefit from association with other workers, and therefor owes the union nothing, and for the under-educated worker who is never going to get beyond a subsistence income to believe that they too have a shot at an upper middle class existence, if they just work hard enough.
      The truth is there is no benign meritocracy out there, and the Republicans don't want one. They want, and are adept at moving us toward, a social darwinism that is anything but benign, and which makes no distinction between individual extinction through stupidity (with which I don't really object) and individual extinction through accident of birth, circumstance or disease, or being simply overpowered by forces beyond individual control. They will stop at nothing to make sure that no collective effort to control those things succeeds, because doing so breaks their favorite equation, in which money begets power begets money begets .....

    • The problem is unions have rigged the system so that joining a union is mandatory and the union takes money directly out of workers checks. EVERY WORKER MUST HAVE A FREE CHOICE TO JOIN OR NOT!

    • ...Previously in Michigan, no one was forced to join a union, but workers who benefited from collective bargaining were required to pay fees to cover the cost of that bargaining...


      The REAL problem with agency fee is the lack of integrity and honesty of the union officers combined with the help of Obuma to keep the $$ games from being revealed.

      technically, those who do NOT want their dues used for anything BUT Union business can file to be BECK Objectors- and get an audit of what part of their dues are Used for genuine Unioin busines
      Typically the so called audit shows about 20 percent of dues go for NON union business .

      But companies will only take ONE fixed amount fromm paychecks, so beck objectors have to pay in cash or by check or credit card a reduced amount at least on a quarterly basis.

      So there is a way out but unions do NOT make it obvious, and the audits are suspect.

      even then, the diversion of funds is not obvious. For example, at SPEEA, over 1 million of dues goes to IFPTE. Of that, according to IFPTE, about 30 percent goes to AFL_CIO for NON UNION business. ( read support the democrat of trumkas choice ). SPEEA is exactly correct when they say no money goes ( directly ) to support any political party or candidate. But indirectly, about $300,000 or more per year goes to AFL-CIO, who for some reason does NOT support very many republican candidates (;-PPPP)

      NOw if unions were more open and honest, and freeely published what the reduced rates were, and without a hassle, a lot of the arguments AGAINST agency fee would dissappear.

      But the union lemmings would then have to pay attention to what their so called leaders were really doing, and compete and show they really cared for the members, and how much their so called self annoited leaders were REALLY making in perks and salaries.

      Hell will freeze over first.

    • No one should be forced to pay dues = shakedown money to organized crime.

    • Isn't America about freedom of choice? Not someone else telling you your choice.

    • FACTS...See how these facts bang off the heads of libdems. The fact is, in EVERY state that has a right to work WAGES are higher on average, and there is FAR GREATER EMPLOYMENT !!! And here is what the union is fighting for. It has NOTHING to do with wages, conditions, or employment. It is all about money laundering, period! It is about union dues going to the democrat party, in return for contracts provided them by the libs in govt. If you are a union worker you have NO CHOICE as to where your dues are going! They will go to the democrats for campaign contributions, and for advertising. If there were no dues paid in?? The libs in congress, Obama in the White House could care less about your job, or wages! You become meaningless to them. It is totally about money laundering, and keeping the money flowing to the democrats. And they will become violent to see that it continues.

      • 2 Replies to sayfu32
      • And I am one of those union working stiffs that doesn't want my union dues going to the democrats knowing what they are doing to the country, but I can do nothing about it. And that is democracy?

      • Facts and republiconned fascist faux-news dttoheads do not go togehter well...
        stay tuned...

        As politicians, businessmen and ordinary citizens brace for spending cuts and tax hikes in the new year, a long-term Republican advisor says the U.S. should take the "fiscal cliff" plunge.

        "Let the fiscal cliff happen and reduce the deficit very substantially as a consequence,"says Bruce Bartlett, author of The Benefit and Burden: Tax Reform--Why We Need It and What It Will Take. The combination of spending cuts and tax hikes will eventually strengthen the economy he says, citing CBO analysis.

        In contrast, Republicans' refusal to raise taxes would hurt the economy in the long run, Bartlett argues.

        Related: Higher Taxes Will Create Jobs and Cut the Deficit: David Cay Johnston

        Bartlett, a former advisor to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and Congressman Ron Paul, explains why the GOP tax pledge has harmful consequences for the economy. Government spending will rise over the coming decades as more baby boomers retire. But if tax revenues don't keep pace with spending, the federal government will be forced to increase borrowing, which will increase interest payments on the debt.

        According to Bartlett, a GAO report projects that the Republican plan to keep revenues at just under 18% of GDP will cause interest on the debt to surge from 19.2% of the deficit this year to 62% in 2020.

        Bartlett is not advocating big spending increases --- he'd rather trim spending-- but he says revenues must keep up with spending. Going over the fiscal cliff is a move in that direction because revenues would rise as the Bush-era tax cuts expire for everyone, not just the top 2%, at the same that spending is reduced.

        "Revenues are too low rather than spending too high," he tells The Daily Ticker's Aaron Task.

        Bartlett doesn't know if and when Republicans and Democrats will agree to fiscal cliff deal, but he predicts that any deal will not happen "before the absolute last possible minute." Stay tuned.

    • republicanfascists republicanfascists Dec 13, 2012 11:26 AM Flag

      Republkkkan fascism, like rust, never sleeps...

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