Right to Work to Death

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryNew Hampshire may become one of the growing number of states to pass right to work laws. Under such laws companies can opt out of union contracts and employees who do not wish to join unions do not have to pay union dues. Supporters of such legislation say that unions are too powerful and force workers who do not wish to be part of unions to be part of a non-union shop. Critics see such legislation as plain union busting and giving companies the power to bust unions and preventing workers from forming unions. Yet what is at the heart of the issue is putting the state governments clearly on the side of the corporations. Before, if workers, after overcoming many obstacles, wanted a unionized workplace then the company had to either deal with them or throw the workers out—if they could. Nine times out of ten the workers would win if the company could not bust the workers or the union. Now the state governments are interjecting themselves into the debate in favor of the companies.

There is everything wrong with this. If a company signs a contract with a union, that company could still opt out with the help and coercive power of the state. We now have two set of contradictory laws—those that recognize workers to become unionized if they so wish, and state laws that will pull the rug from under the workers. And with such denial of the workers’ right to a union workshop will also come denial of decent and safe working conditions, the power of the state to break up strikes, the empowerment of company higher-ups to ill-treat and harass workers, and the “right” of the company to terminate workers for no reason at all. In other words we will be back to the “good old days” when workers were expendable resources and they had no say in their work conditions. The fundamental question is this: do the state governments have the right to interfere in the private disputes between workers and companies and the self-determination of the workers? In the case where unionized workers work for the state government itself that is possible. However, for private companies this sounds too much like state government interference.

Right to work laws change the whole nature of the company-union debate by making it clear that the state governments themselves can decide if workers should have their own unions or not, can send in the police or even national guard to brake up strikes, and even arrest and imprison workers for “endangering national security.” Because companies will now have the power of the state governments behind them then workers have no real civil and human rights—never mind labor rights—under state or even federal law. This is the dangerous trap of right to work laws, and unless this is fought tooth and nail workers, unions, and indeed all working families will lose and lose big.

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