Every time a state passes a right-to-work law, as Michigan just rammed through its legislature in a lame-duck session, there will be apologists telling us that if unions want to remain viable, all they have to do is convince people who now have the ability to freeload on contract negotiations to pay dues to the union. Apologists will say that the laws simply give workers freedom to refuse to join a union, freedom of association. Hogwash. Right-to-work laws are part and parcel of corporate efforts to destroy unions as a countervailing force to the power of owners and money.
People will throw out the decline in union membership as proof of workers not wanting to join in collective action. Polls show a far different picture. Workers, when asked, want to join unions more than in the last forty years. The number of workers who want unions has risen substantially over the last 10 years, and a majority of non-union workers in 2005 would vote for union representation if they could. This is up from the roughly 30% who would vote for representation in the mid-1980s.
For decades now, corporations have refined ways to inhibit union elections, aided and abetted by a feckless and weak National Labor Relations Board. Businesses have become more aggressive and successful in their efforts to inhibit worker organizing. Such union-busting action by management is designed to prevent employees from exercising their right to organize. There are expert attorneys available to train supervisors on what to say to persuade workers to vote down a union. All these efforts follow a similar play book.
Employers usually first use supervisors to hold one-on-one meetings with workers, in order to talk against the efforts to organize. Next, when workers try to form a union because of an egregious problem in the workplace, management will make improvements to convince people that there is no need for a union. Without a written, legally binding contract, those improvements can be taken away at the whim of management.
Workers may be required to attend mandatory meetings where managers try to scare people about unions. Companies often try to keep union supporters out of such meetings. Just before a scheduled union vote, anti-union consultants often tell employers to hold a special event with workers or go on the attack with threats about job security.
A case study in anti-union tactics is Walmart, where union-busting has been refined to a high art. Walmart has been accused of using repeated violations of the law, firing workers trying to organize, shutting down stores, and even eliminating a company-wide meat-cutting service after the workers voted for a union.
Walmart gives its managers a handbook called, “The Manager’s Toolbox to Remaining Union Free.” Managers are told to call a ‘Union Hotline’ at the first sign of any union activity. The Toolbox warns managers to look out for extensive socializing among coworkers, any complaints lodged against managers by employees, and “curiosity” about employment policies.
The Citizens United court case has given enormous power to the wealthy and to corporations to purchase politicians and to wield unrestricted power over our culture, our working conditions, and our governance. Unions once gave workers a countervailing force to corporate and monetary power. Attacks on collective bargaining and unions, including the use of right-to-work (a misnomer, if there was ever one), to weaken unions is just another method used by the plutocracy to enfeeble the rest of us.
There is one message in what we are seeing on the state level. The elections in 2013 and 2014 are vital if we are to protect the 98% from the greed of the 2%. Never again can we allow a 2010 to happen. Far too many states fell under the control of right-wing politicians owned by the plutocracy. Only grassroots organizing and getting our people to the ballot box can save those things we value most from the power of money to buy our government.