A week ago, as the nation prepared to celebrate Independence Day, I wrote a column in The Hill about the role labor unions play in promoting freedom. Working people, I argued, deserve the same freedom enjoyed by corporate CEOs: to negotiate a fair return on our work so we can provide for our families.
This got the attention of the anti-union special interests. In a rebuttal piece, Akash Chougule, who works for the Koch brothers, argued disingenuously that the ability of a teacher or a corrections officer to earn a decent living, while having the freedom to go to a PTA meeting or take time off to care for a sick parent, is an “entitlement,” involving “coercion” and a “political agenda.”
When he’s not getting his facts wrong and distorting the meaning of freedom beyond recognition, Mr. Chougule wildly misrepresents so-called “right-to-work” laws and the stakes in a case called Janus v. AFSCME, which could soon come before the Supreme Court.
A ruling against the plaintiff in Janus — who, by the way, is bankrolled by the same people who pay Mr. Chougule’s salary — would not, in fact, force anyone “to fund a political agenda.” It simply would preserve the common-sense status quo, requiring everyone — both members and non-members — who benefits from a union contract to pitch in for the cost of negotiating that contract. That is the longstanding precedent, and Mr. Chougule’s claim that the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that unions may represent only dues-paying members is wholly inaccurate.
The goal of Mr. Chougule and his organization is to cripple unions — to prevent working people from coming together, speaking with a strong voice and exercising their freedoms.
To them, freedom means the freedom of the privileged and powerful to stuff their pockets with billions of dollars in tax breaks. It means strangling the public services — good schools, safe roads, professional law enforcement and more — that our communities depend on. It means embracing a health care policy that takes insurance coverage away from tens of millions of people, with an especially harsh impact on seniors, children and our most vulnerable populations.
Right-wing politicians have made a habit of cloaking oppressive policies in freedom rhetoric. Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are offering an amendment to the Senate health care bill that they call the “Consumer Freedom Option” — except that the only freedom it provides is the freedom to buy junk insurance plans that don’t protect people with pre-existing conditions.
A few years ago, Glenn Grothman, then a state senator (now a member of Congress) from Wisconsin, actually proposed eliminating the weekend for Wisconsin workers. He called the state law protecting people from seven consecutive work days without a break “a little goofy.” Repealing it, he claimed, was a matter of — you guessed it — “freedom.”
In this vision of freedom, Americans are “free” to have their labor rights crushed and their voice on the job silenced. They’re “free” to work for whatever wage their employer sees fit to pay, under whatever conditions. Under their definition, freedom was undermined rather than advanced by child labor laws, while the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory –—where 146 workers, the majority of them immigrant women, were killed in a 1911 industrial fire — was a beacon of freedom.
Mr. Chougule and his bosses believe that wealth should be hoarded by the wealthy, while everyone else works harder than ever just to keep their heads above water. But that’s not freedom; that’s greed. That’s rigging the rules. That’s inviting folks born on third base to score as many runs as they want, while millions of working families are desperate just for a turn at-bat.
Real freedom is the freedom for working people to amass power in numbers, so they can fight for the things their families need. Real freedom is the freedom for working people to prosper.