By Nancy Churchill
A Progressive Visionary
Union-bashing is all the conservative rage these days. In an article clearly designed to turn up the heat, George Will (Chicago Tribune, Dec. 16, 2012) claims “resentment of union power has been accumulating like steam in a boiler,” while Republicans enact new “right-to-work” laws in states like Wisconsin and Michigan. The demise of unions is at hand!
Not so fast! The photo accompanying Will’s article shows “Union members from around the country [rallying] … at the Michigan State Capitol … to protest a vote on right-to-work legislation.” Hmmmm. Looks like support, not resentment, of union power! Perhaps “the news of the death of unions has been greatly exaggerated,” to paraphrase Mark Twain.
Businesses are essentially top-down, non-democratic serfdoms, composed of lords at the top, worker-serfs at the bottom and managers in between. Profit is the only driving force, so the less the serfs receive, the more profit rises to the top.
Prior to the last century, workers labored in horrible, hazardous sweatshops with low pay and long hours. Only when workers organized themseves into unions, in the democratic tradition, did conditions improve for workers. Various unions represented members in specific workplaces and industries, but they also lobbied broadly and tirelessly for safety and pay equity laws that benefited workers everywhere. By mid-century, workers had won concessions not even dreamed of a century before: paid vacations, a 40-hour work week, retirement benefits and a minimum wage.
But unions were too successful — worker benefits became too costly, so something had to be done! Employers weren’t daft enough to directly bash their bread and butter, their workers, so they targeted unions instead. Unions must be bankrupted so workers will lose their representation; stripping union power strips worker power. As unions are crushed, so are those benefits once taken for granted.
As for the “right-to-work” campaign, these laws are not designed to end “coerced funding of the Democratic Party,” as Will claims, since the National Labor Relations Act already prohibits coerced funding. “[E]mployees who object to full union membership may continue as ‘core’ members,” it stipulates, “and pay only that share of dues used directly for representation. … Known as objectors, they are no longer full members but are still protected by the union contract.”
The Act requires “core” members to pay for the representation and protection they receive, as they should. Yet, Will calls that a “requirement of paying union dues as a condition of employment.” So, “Right To Work” is needed to force unions to represent non-members free. Who pays for something if they can get it free?
Right-to-work is really a stealth effort to put unions out of business. It’s an anti-democratic assault designed to oppress workers. But widespread public support for unions, on full display in Wisconsin and Michigan, can make the difference in this struggle for worker rights. Union bashers could win a few battles, but ultimately lose the war.
The rights unions protect may be your own!
Highlights of Nancy Churchill’s life are growing up in Congo, Africa, until she was 15, racing stock cars as an adult from 1976 until 2001, and writing as a liberal political junkie since the early ’90s. She lives in Oregon, Ill.
From the Jan. 16-22, 2013, issue