Feb 6, 2012
February 1, Indiana’s Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, signed so-called “right-to-work” legislation, which formally prohibits the “union shop,” that is, any requirement that workers join or give dues to a union in order to get or keep a job.
These laws are grossly misnamed. No worker has ever been given a “right to work” because one of these laws passed. In fact, in most states where they exist, unemployment is much higher than average.
The aim of these laws has always been clear: to prevent union organization, by cutting back their source of funds.
Indiana is not the first state to pass this “right-to-prevent-a-union” legislation. But it is the first state in the last ten years to pass such a law. And it is the first state in the industrial centers of the country – the Midwest heartland, the Northeast and the Pacific Coast – to do so.
Certainly, states have been chipping away at union rights for decades now. And that’s especially so in states, where the Republicans gained control – since the Democrats have always gained from the electoral help the union apparatuses gave them.
But up until now, even the Republicans held back from this kind of attack on the unions in their strongholds. In the South and the Plains states and parts of the Mountain West, yes – but not in a state like Indiana.
Today, it seems, the Republicans have crossed that threshold – and that means that the capitalist class or a good part of it stands poised to tear up the framework that has governed labor relations for the past 77 years.
It was a very formal framework: One that required workers to get the government to certify their right to have a union. One that prevented workers from having a union unless the majority of the workers voted for one.
This formal framework ended up with the company deducting union dues from workers’ paychecks and sending them on to the union apparatus, freeing it from even that little bit of worker control.
This formal framework determined that workers could strike only every three or four years when a contract expired – and, eventually, over the years, not even then.
All of these things, which were the “norm” of labor relations in this country, served the company’s desire for “labor peace” and the union apparatus’s desire for a stable income.
But they didn’t serve the workers. Why can’t 40% of the workers, for example, decide to set up their own union and make it function? Why couldn’t the workers decide whether or not to pay their dues, based on how the union represents their interests? Why do they have to go through such tortured procedures, instead of just deciding, among themselves, to strike?
This framework that didn’t serve the workers is being torn up today – but not in a way that serves the workers’ interests.
Not a single thing in these so-called “right to work” laws makes it easier for workers to set up their own union, to decide when and how to take on the company. Nothing in them turns the union’s source of funds over to defending the immediate and long term interests of the workers – which could only be served by deciding to prepare for a real fight.
Just the opposite. Because, even while the Republicans – and some Democrats – attack the union apparatus, both parties increase the legal impediments put in the workers’ way: they add more restrictions on the right to strike, more restrictions on the rights of workers to express themselves in the workplace.
There are huge problems with the unions. But the workers can change it; they can take the situation in their own hands.
Let the politicians of both parties keep their grubby hands off the workers’ unions.