For an entire century, the corporate class in America has dreamed of destroying organized labor, which eats into their ability to amass endless profits. They’ve chipped away at unions for 40 years. Now, it is no exaggeration to say that they are two steps away from total victory.
There are close to 15 million union members in America today. Those members are about evenly split between public employees, who hold government jobs, and employees of private companies. But nearly 35% of public employees are union members, while less than 7% of private employees are. If you are, say, a right wing industrialist who wants to gut the power of unions to increase wages for their workers—so that you and your fellow industrialists may instead keep that capital for yourselves—you have to gut public unions, and then you have to gut what’s left of private unions, and then you’re done. This is exactly what is happening now. I cannot overemphasize how perilous the situation is.
“Right to work” laws are the most effective tool for destroying union membership, because such laws in essence allow any worker in a unionized workplace to enjoy the benefits of a union contract without paying any union dues. These laws are proven tools for draining unions of money and membership and political influence. The majority of states in America now have right to work laws, and these states have weaker unions, and therefore stronger corporate influence and lower wages. Simple.
The public sector, which is strongly unionized, is not right to work. That’s a problem if you want to destroy unions. The case that went before the Supreme Court yesterday, Janus v. AFSCME, is the solution. This case will almost certainly be decided against public unions, thanks to the presence of Neil Gorsuch on the court. When it is done, this ruling will make the entire public sector “right to work.” This will inevitably have the effect of destroying public union membership. Some unions are anticipating a drop of a third; others say they could lose up to half of their members and/ or dues money. What is certain is that this is going to happen soon, and it will smash the last stronghold of union membership in America, and have the aftereffect of making big unions less politically influential, which could exacerbate the fact that Republicans control federal politics today, which will make the legislative climate even more hostile to workers.
This case is half the battle against unions. Once it happens, all that is left, if you want to truly strike the final blow against union organizing, is to make the remaining 23 union-friendly states in the country “right to work.” Of course, since these laws are passed on the state level, it is impossible to get solid blue states like New York or California to pass those laws. That would never happen. The solution, therefore, is for Republicans to pass a national “right to work” law, that would supersede the power of blue states and make the entire country hostile ground for union organizing. With Republican control of Congress and Donald Trump in the White House, now would be the perfect time for a well-financed group of right wing business interests to push hard for this last, crucial piece of the anti-labor strategy.
And so: The Intercept reports that the Koch brothers donor network, the single strongest financial force on the right, has a memo detailing plans “to press forward with the Employee Rights Act, legislation to extend right-to-work laws nationally and set up new barriers for labor activists hoping to form new unions.”
This is it. This is the other half of the plan. It is coming. Everyone (for obvious reasons) is focused on the Janus case now and its effect on public unions. Few are taking the threat of a national “right to work” law seriously. But it is time to think about it. It is time to get scared, and get mad, and get to work. Republicans have worked systematically to tighten labor law for decades, in an effort to make it harder for working people to unionize. Their work has gone well. But this is the death blow. Public unions are about to go “Right to work.” That is a foregone conclusion. If a national law were to pass to make all the remaining states “right to work” as well, that would be game over for the traditional model of organized labor in America. It would require an entire reimagining of collective power in order for working people to even begin to try to win back what had been lost, at that point. The political situation now is very, very serious. The decline of union membership is already a crisis, even under current law. And the law is about to get much, much harder. And it could get so much harder that the game is lost.
We are living in a time of economic inequality so great that it is slowly ripping the connective tissue of our society apart. The problem, simply, is one of distribution. We have enough wealth, but far too few people are hoarding it. And they are able to use that accumulated wealth to produce political power that allows them to hoard even more. Increasing the bargaining power of regular working people is one of the only ways to fix this dynamic. That means unions. So unions are targeted for systematic destruction. If you think that rich people have too much power now, you don’t want to see an America that takes those final steps towards the end of organized labor.
This is a very scary time. Take it seriously.