Or… The Orwellian Lie of “Right to Work”
Enemies of workers, emboldened by the current administration, have, since Trump’s election, authored broad and repeated attacks on civil rights and civil liberties throughout the country. Some of these attacks are explicitly biased, such as where they seek to deny rights to the LGBTIQ community, but others are more carefully veiled.
One such attack on the union movement by “advocates,” bought and paid for by industry, argue for the elimination of mandatory union membership in the public sector. They use the snappy phrase “Right to Work” to describe their position. This exact issue is before the United States Supreme Court in the Janus matter, and, depending on the outcome, public sector unions may lose significant power. When the union movement suffers, all workers suffer, union or not, because the gap between the “haves” – those who employ – and the “have nots” – those who work – grows wider and deeper.
Conservatives love to brand things in a way which, like the totalitarian government in George Orwell’s 1984, is opposite to the reality of what’s being branded. For example, Orwell’s dictatorship had a “Ministry of Peace” (which waged war), a “Ministry of Love” (which tortured citizens) and a “Ministry of Truth” (which spread false propaganda). This so-called “Orwellian” tactic, sadly, is effective, because most people don’t look hard enough to see the truth, and the obvious harm to the majority of Americans in what the GOP and their malicious president seeks to accomplish.
The “Right to Work” – which seeks to undermine worker’s rights – is right in line with the use of the phrase “Death Tax,” used by rich conservatives to slur the very fair tax on wealthy estates. Neither of these names speak truth – in fact, they speak a lie which is opposite to the truth – but they’re catchy, and in being designed to mislead, confuse and co-opt working class support. Make no mistake about it; advancing a “Right to Work” position is really only about advancing corporate interests and keeping down employee wages and benefits.
History tells this tale. One of the Nazis’ first acts in Germany was to crush the labor unions. Knowing that organized labor was a real threat to Nazi control, the fascist government spent two years outlawing unions, jailing leaders who stood up for workers and setting up a state-run system of worker control. Using ruthless violence, intimidation and murder, the Nazis destroyed everything for which unions had fought.
In the United States, the smashing of unions has often been tied to bigoted, biased, and racists views. As the founder of the “Right to Work” movement, Vance Muse, a fan of the Ku Klux Klan, claimed: “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized this as well: “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone… wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”
Dr. King addressed the AFL-CIO Convention in 1961 and again spoke to the issue: “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs-decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor… that is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.”
Civil rights and labor rights are inextricably tied together. Our advocates and supporters must continue to support each other and protect against the slippery slope of the erosion of these critical rights.