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GOP's "Right to Work" vs. Your Right to Know the Facts

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The Denver Post's resident "me first, everyone else be damned" conservative David Harsanyi does his best stenographer routine today, using his column to promote Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frasier's (R) so-called "right to work" ballot initiative which proposes to force unions to collectively bargain for workers who refuse to contribute to the union. The column is wonderful in both its stylistic banality and copy-and-pasted flavor -- it has been written an infinite number of times by an infinite number of right-wing parrots over an infinite number of years. This makes it a terrific sample specimen to help us dissect all the core fallacies of the overarching "right to work" ideology -- an ideology that at its core is aimed at ending the labor movement.

So without further delay, let's dive right in.

The double standard

Harsanyi starts out by saying it is supposedly a horrible and unprecedented atrocity when unions use the resources its members contribute collectively for political activities which some of its members may or may not support. This, we are led to believe, is unique to unions. Yet, there is no mention that that's precisely what happens when you are a shareholder of a company. Many people own lots of shares of stock and do not support management using company resources - that is, shareholder resources - for the political causes those companies push. Companies spend far more money on political causes than unions (more on that in a moment) and are, in fact, under far less obligation to tell shareholders where they spend resources than unions. So if there's a problem here, it is far more a corporate problem than a union problem. But neither Harsanyi or the Republican hack he transcribes bothers to mention those facts.

The myth of the all-powerful unions

Harsanyi cites an anti-union front group to claim that unions spent $925 million on "political expenditures" during the 2004 election cycle, and that such an factually suspect figure "illustrates a great deal of political influence." But as we all know, "political influence" is relative. $925 million sounds like a lot of money - but it sounds like a little when you compare it to the billions that corporations spend on politics. As I report in Hostile Takeover, the data shows that for every one dollar contributed by labor unions business interests gave $15. When looking at just individual contributions to lawmakers, the gap is even more pronounced: Business executives out-contributed labor leaders and staff by a factor of 1,000 to 1. This data is quite literally not disputed by any newspapers media organizations, or nonpartisan watchdog groups. It is not disputed, in other words, by anyone other than a handful of operatives working inside a few right-wing, corporate-funded organizations. The idea that unions' political contributions make them as powerful or more powerful than Corporate America in the political process is so silly and so factually absurd that no respectable journalist with any integrity would even imply such a thing.

The disdain for democracy

Harsanyi says that when successful elections to unionize a workplace happen, it is a tragedy for those who "happen to vote no" because those workers are forced to collectively bargain with their employer for better wages and benefits (more on that in a moment). Yet, this is precisely what "democracy" is. When you vote "no" for a political candidate who ends up winning, say, a seat in the legislature, you have to live under that legislator's representation. You don't have a choice, because the majority won. If you don't like that, then you don't like democracy (which many conservative pundits don't).

The claim of "freedom" and "choice"

Harsanyi closes his piece with more stenography, quoting Frazier saying "it's a bunch of baloney" that a right-to-work initiative "makes it harder for workers." Frazier claims his proposal "does not hurt workers, it gives them a choice to be a part of a union - if they want to be part of it." Now we're into the real guts of the dishonesty.

No one - not even conservative automatons - disputes all of the benefits that unionized workplaces bring workers: Higher wages, better health care and retirement benefits, etc. Workers get those things by pooling their dues and standing in solidarity to form a union that collectively bargains with the employer. A right-to-work initiative says that any worker can decide not to contribute to those collective efforts, yet work under the contract (and all the better benefits) that the union secured - even if, by the way, the contract previously said the employer will only hire union labor (ie. a union shop). As American Rights at Work notes, unions in "right to work" states "are required by law to defend non-dues paying members involved in a dispute or charged with a grievance at work, but even those employees do not have to contribute dues."

This is not a choice, nor is it freedom, nor is it fair. It sets up a situation whereby unions and their members who stand in solidarity are forced to give away their assets (ie. a contract made possible by union dues and collective bargaining) for free.


So, just to review - according to Harsanyi, Frazier and the tiny handful of corporate elites who run the "right to work" initiatives:

- Unions should not be allowed to spend resources on campaigns that some of its members may not support, but corporations should be allowed to spend resources on campaigns that many of its stockholders do not support.

- Unions are all-powerful political forces whose campaign contributions mean they wield "a great deal of political influence" even though unions contributions are dwarfed by corporate contributions at a ratio of roughly 15-to-1.

- Even if unions win a democratic election, they should not be able to act on behalf of all workers in a workplace because a minority of workers voted no. Yet, in every other arena where democracy exists, the majority should be entitled to the benefits of winning an election.

- Forcing unions and their members to spend resources on collectively bargaining for non-members constitutes "freedom" and allowing workers who don't want to contribute to a union nonetheless get all the benefits of a union is fair.

What these inherent hypocrisies show is that the "right to work" initiatives are designed not to give workers "freedom" but to undermine unions in two ways - first by eliminating their ability to collectively negotiate for union shops and build larger membership with better bargaining power and second by forcing unions to expend resources collectively bargaining for people who do not contribute to the union.

Luckily, Coloradoans seem to understand that "right to work" initiatives are ploys by Big Money interests to drive down wages by undermining the labor movement. As government data shows, the average worker in a "right to work" state makes about $5,000 less per year than other workers. A statewide poll shows that once Coloradoans get beyond the happy-sounding "right to work" misnomer and hear the details of what it actually means, the majority opposes it.

Additionally, even Colorado's business community has said publicly it has "no desire" for Frazier's "right to work" initiative.

But that doesn't deter the crowd pushing the "right to work" initiatives. They don't care if there is no grassroots support for their agenda. Aspiring, ladder-climbing politicians like Frazier have their eye on a different audience. They are undoubtedly looking for praise, approval and support from Grover Norquist's network of out-of-state corporate front groups like the National Right to Work Committee - a sham organization funded almost exclusively by multinational corporations. And they are, as usual, aided and abetted by whatever right-wing mouthpiece happens to have a media platform, and happens to be willing to ignore objective facts.

UPDATE: Just to show you how wildly out of control the anti-union elite is inside the Republican Party, check this out - it has to be the most ridiculous thing I've seen in a long time. Apparently, Republicans believe there is something scandalous about a governor meeting with state employees and unions to - gasp! - discuss their wages, working conditions and rights. The governor, for reference, is the head of state government. But yes - the GOP apparently thinks the head of state government should not be meeting with state government employees. I kid you not. And, sadly, the Rocky Mountain News is trying to claim these meetings were "secret," when in fact, the governor's office had previously (and proudly) told the Rocky Mountain News about the meetings - and the Rocky Mountain News had previously REPORTED on that disclosure (I mean, really, is it that slow a news day???). When I moved to Colorado, some friends had warned me that there were some extreme right-wing elements here. Now I realize what my friends were talking about. Really, what's the next headline? "Newsflash: Sky Is Blue!" or "Breaking: Scientists Determine That Water Is Wet." Or how about this one: "GOP Plots With Corporate Lobbyists to Undermine Labor Movement" - there, you heard it here first. What a scoop I've got.

Cross-posted from Working Assets