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Wake-up call

The right to work — for peanuts


The phrase "an aha moment" refers to a "moment of sudden insight or discovery.” Most flashes of enlightenment are highly unreliable. 

But listening to a radio talk-show, I had such an "aha moment" that struck a nerve and embittered me against the upholders and beneficiaries of economic injustice beyond the possibility of forgiveness. It pervades some, but infects all political camps, though their rhetoric varies.

The give-and-take of the caller and host filled me with the "by any means necessary" fervor of my youth before I needed cognitive supplements.

The caller complained that he was down on his luck, dead broke, estranged from family and generally alienated from the world. But he felt motivated and eager to work at any job under any terms. To get a leg up on other applicant and undermine their competitive positions, he wanted to offer his services for below minimum wage.

The host oozed with empathy, agreeing that salary arrangements should be a private matter between bosses and their hirelings, and if a person is willing to work for a dollar an hour, whether for a good or bad reason or no reason at all, the law should not interfere.

The host, who makes almost a million dollars a week, commended the caller on his Yankee grit, resilience, and lack of self-pity or class envy. He shared with the caller what he saw as a silver lining to the caller's dark cloud of circumstance: since the caller was from a "right to work" state,  he could shun the tempting enticements of collective bargaining, renounce the non-essential prosperity of a union contract, and ingratiate himself with his paymaster while practicing the pioneer spirit.

And hope for the best.

Even if there are minimum wage laws in right-to-work states, enforcement  is  low on the monitors' "to do" list. That's no accident.

"Right to work" is a euphemism worthy of Josef Goebbels. Who could argue with the face value of those words?  But historically it was a rallying call and battle cry for segregation. It crosses the spectrum of injustices.

According to Labor Notes, it was  "a strategy to maintain Jim Crow in the South,” and was championed by a corporate lobbyist, white-supremacist, anti-Semite, professional anti-unionist and conspiracy theorist who raved that labor organizers were overrunning "the rural South to inflame a contented but gullible African-American population and to force White workers to join unions together with Black workers and call them 'brother'".

Most "right to work" states also opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was a natural and insidious overlapping. And no coincidence.

Roughly half of the nation's states are "right to work". Although New York is not one of them, there are employers here who are all too conversant in the playbooks of exploitation and are virtuoso practitioners.

They know how to launder reality like drug dealers do money. 

Workers are vulnerable even in protected workplaces. The tenets of "right to work" absolutism worm their way into their means of livelihood. 

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Janus Case demonstrated the power and primacy of judicial coercion when it sided with a virulently anti-union teacher against the will and interests of workers. This plaintiff and the overt and clandestine zealots who pulled his strings were expecting that the ruling would be a dagger in the heart of teacher unions.

Instead it was a good luck charm. Rather than pulverize them, it made them shatterproof. The "human right to work,” as an abstraction, is codified in international law. 

But the refitted wording of "right to work laws" is a smokescreen that mocks and seeks to obliterate those human rights. It is driven by virulent disaffection against any assertion or trace of self-determination by workers and their unions.

The Constitution-parroting "originalists" still condemn former President Franklin Roosevelt for signing the National Labor Relations Act (aka Wagner Act) during the Great Depression. They were repulsed by its protection of "the right of self-organization of employees for the purposes of collective bargaining.” 

It was a beacon of hope, but to its foes it was a hornets nest. Worker suppression brings aid and comfort to the demagogues and it still is  in their blood to pursue it.

The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, according to Jurist.org, "amended parts of the NLRA, such as subjecting labor unions to claims of unfair practices and allowing only union shops in the absence of state law to the contrary.”

The NLRA took some arm-twisting to get passed. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union notes that many Southern lawmakers mulishly held out against the inclusion of public employees, farm workers and domestic workers, who used to gather for a daily "shape-up" in the "slave markets" of the Bronx and Manhattan. Even after statutory emancipation, they were bound by the "virtual slavery" of crushing debt. Unions unchained them.

Michigan made history recently by becoming the first state in almost 60 years to repeal the ageless bigotry of its "right-to-work" law. 

It is a common mistaken assumption  that the level of intellectual-sounding prose equates with the standard of intellectual integrity. But just as "the devil can quote scripture,” so can highly-educated people make arguments that are impressively polished and seductive.

What sounds reasonable to the ear can reverberate with treacherous irrationality. Rhetorical skill doesn't correlate with wisdom.

By quoting the scripture (which in their case is nothing more sublime than blank bullet points), glib anti-labor tricksters can lure audiences, including elected officials and judges, with chicanery, sophistry, false cogency and often venal motives.

Conjuring a Constitutional or academic foundation adds nothing to the validity of their legal arguments. They cite the guaranteed "freedom of association" as a basis for workers' right to be unmolested by unions.

They allude to financial coercion, loss of free will, the failures of businesses to thrive when forced to co-exist with unions. They point to the higher cost of living in states where grisly concessions to unions cause a spiral of tax increases,external political activity of unions. They raise the specter of opulence-challenged dividends to shareholders and the boo-boo to executive compensation unless unions are not beaten down and driven away.

Right-to-work apologists want workers to have eternal faith in the arrogant charity of  paternalistic and patronizing bosses

Although there is currently no federal right-to-work law, it's no stretch to believe that it looms large on the agenda of the same industrial chieftains and whistle-stopping baby-kissers who drool with the dream of  enfeebling Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Right-to-work missionaries are shameless, brazen and vocal. "Unions didn't build the Middle Class in America. Entrepreneurs and hard-working Americans did. With rising inflation and gas prices, workers should not be forced to hand over their hard-earned paychecks over to unions,” prattles North Carolina Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx.

She would like workplaces to be ruled by executive order and she is indifferent to the consequential lower wages, increased workplace deaths and injuries, higher poverty rates, poorer health care, aggravated job instability, snuffed due-process, screwed pensions, etc.

There are so many pitfalls in non-union workplaces that if we listed them individually and embedded for each one a bronze plaque into the sidewalk at close intervals, like the historical figures identified in the Canyon Heroes, we could commemorate our way from Battery Park City to Fort Tryon Park and not mention them all.

Groups like the National Right to Work Committee and the Center for Union Facts are snakes in the grass. My apologies to copperheads.

There are many definitions of insanity, including the pathological condition manifested by the belief that even given the opportunity, employers will not try to take advantage of workers and that unions are unnecessary because of the innate virtue of bosses and the ( often unfulfilled) promises of law.

"Right-to-work" is a  malice-driven misnomer loaded with tragic irony. Workers never volunteered or consented to the forfeiture of what is due them. While we're in the business of rattling off "rights", how about the right to struggle and wrest justice after hundreds of years of stasis, dehumanization, and being jerked around?


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  • This article Mr. Ron Isaac is right on the money. I agree with your 100%. I think this should reprinted several times on the front page to remind and catch those who missed this solid rebuttals on right to work States. Thank you I will share this with my coworkers and help them see another view other the limited information on articles like this and maybe they will share with their families to help open their eyes and not to be fooled with words that really aren’t what they are.

    Thursday, April 6, 2023 Report this