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Defeat ‘Right to Work for less’

Wisconsin on front lines
By staff |
February 1, 2015
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Milwaukee, WI - Plans to introduce so-called ‘Right to Work’ legislation are threatening to make Wisconsin the 25th state to eliminate all union contracts with mandatory dues as part of employment. Right to Work laws, now covering 24 states, particularly in the South but even in relative union strongholds like Michigan, weaken workers’ rights to collectively bargain, leading to inferior contracts and lower rates of unionization.

The powerful billionaires and multi-millionaires pushing this anti-worker legislation have been bolstered by their success in 2011, when big business, Governor Scott Walker and Republican politicians pushed through Act 10, a version of Right to Work for public sector workers in Wisconsin. At the time, Wisconsin workers stepped into the national spotlight, waging an intense struggle to resist right to work and to preserve our unions. Teachers called in sick, students walked out and tens of thousands of workers and their supports occupied and surrounded the state capitol building, delaying the passage of the bill and energizing workers around the country.

“We’re suffering from Act 10 but the fight is still within us, we must do everything we can to defeat Right to Work in Wisconsin,” commented Gilbert Johnson, vice president of AFSCME 82.

Many workers are ready to fight Right to Work because Right to Work is not about democracy or choice, it’s an attack from big businesses on the organizations of working people that bargain for better wages and respect. Right to Work means banning what’s called a “union security clause” from all union and employer contracts. Almost all private sector unions in Wisconsin currently bargain into their contracts such clauses which allow the union to collect dues from all the workers it represents.

Business owners will find any way they can to undermine the effectiveness of workers’ right to collectively bargain, and making the argument that individual workers have ‘rights’ that are opposed to the collective vote of the members is a way to undermine collective bargaining and deliver weaker contracts.

Workers of these industries know that business owners don’t care about democracy or choice at all. Unions will have fewer resources and workplaces will become divided. Unions will be under pressure to accept concessions for extended contracts.

The same argument about choice was made in the 1940s by Southern segregationists, some whom were the original promoters of Right to Work, who saw racist discrimination as a choice and a ‘right’ of the employers and property owners and who saw unions as a threat.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “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.”

Right to Work legislation could be passed as early as April. Workers in Wisconsin will have to do everything they can to fight back, from taking the struggle to the state capitol back to the workplaces. Reliance on the courts and politicians isn’t enough. The fight against Right to Work can help build a fighting workers movement.