By now, we have all heard the hideous news. While it may not have completely sunk in, we have heard it, we have processed it, and we are understandably made heart-sick by it.
Wisconsin, one of America's great "progressive" states (yes, it had Joe McCarthy, but it also had Robert LaFollette, William Proxmire and Russ Feingold), and the first state to allow (in 1959) public sector employees to engage in collective bargaining, recently became the 25th state to adopt right-to-work legislation. Given Wisconsin's progressive history, this news is hard to believe.
For those unfamiliar with the rules, this law means that Wisconsin employees working in a union shop no longer have to pay their union dues. No one can "force" them to do that. And before anyone is lulled into thinking that this measure is a victory for the proponents of "free choice" or "libertarianism," they need to take a step back and consider who got it done and their reasons for doing it.
This was nothing more than knee-to-the-groin Republican politics. It was pushed through by Governor Scott Walker and his state assembly in order to deflect money away from organized labor because, as everyone knows, Big Labor contributes heavily to the Democrats. Big Labor helps Democrats get elected, and Republicans hate that. Claiming this was anything more noble than a political power-play is disingenuous.
Also those who think right-to-work laws are somehow "fairer" than laws that force workers to pay dues need to look up the word "fair" in the dictionary, because there's nothing remotely "fair" about this. Even though union jobs across-the-board are seen to offer 15-20 percent better wages and benefits, as well as superior working conditions and safety programs, if a person truly hates unions, so be it. Hating unions is not only his privilege, it's his right.
And if this person happens to be a "self-made" man and practicing libertarian, so much the better. Not only does abhorring labor unions conform to "Natural Law," it's the gateway to enormous opportunity, because close to 94 percent of all private sector jobs (and 89 percent of all jobs) are non-union. These libertarian dudes are going to have no problem whatever finding jobs that aren't unionized. There are plenty of them
But here's the problem. These phony bastards don't want a non-union job. They don't want a job that pays 15 percent less, or has crappy working and safety conditions. They want a union job, with union pay, with union benefits, with union rules, with union grievance representation, and union protection. That's what they really want. The only thing these greedy-assed mother-lovers don't want is having to pay union dues.
Shockingly, Wisconsin's right-to-work legislation is going to allow them to get all this stuff handed to them without having to pay for it. Even more shocking is the fact that, with Michigan and Wisconsin having so readily capitulated, this right-to-work fever is bound to spread. The only thing that can stop it is to repeal all or portions of the Taft-Hartley Act (1947), and we know that ain't going to happen.
When the next state surrenders, it will mean that the U.S. now has a right-to-work majority. And there can be no doubt that more states will be throwing in the towel. Those who think Ohio and Pennsylvania are sacrosanct are kidding themselves. Indeed, the last four holdouts are likely to be New York, California, Hawaii and Alaska. Who the hell would ever have thought that?
David Macaray, a playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor, 2nd edition), is a former labor union rep.