I had the honor and opportunity to speak about the Michigan coup implementing so-called right to work on Aljazeera’s Inside Story. The entire segment starts with an unrelated story which offers an analysis of the HSBC settlement. Then there is a discussion about the implications of Michigan Republicans passing a “right to work” law.
One of the points that i make in the story that i think is critical that we hammer away at is this: it is not ‘right to work’; it is right to be greedy. Why? Because a union is obligated to represent all workers, fairly and equally, in a bargaining unit. Now let me double emphasize this point. When a union is chosen by the majority of the workers at a workplace, the union–by law–is obligated to represent all the workers. That means that it is obligated to represent those who voted against it. Everyone. When you have a right to work situation that means that a union must represent everyone but everyone does not have to pay.
Think about it on this level. Let’s say that the citizens of a particular city had a choice over whether to pay taxes. Even if they chose not to pay taxes, they would still have access to the police, fire, sanitation, water, etc. Could you imagine something like that happening? Such proposals would be laughed away. But in effect that is what ‘right to work’ is about. Workers can gain the benefits brought about by a union but not be obligated to pay.
In my book “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions i recount a story that a friend told me. She played tennis with this hospital chaplain who, in his day job, worked at the postal service. He refused to join the union, saying that he did not need it. One day he told my friend that his hours had been shifted by management unfairly. He went to the union and the union resolved the situation. My friend then asked him whether in light of this he would be joining the union. He said “no.” My friend then pointed out that this contradicted all that he had to say about faith and showed that he was actually a freeloader. Or, to put it another way, he just wanted to be greedy.
This is the problem associated with ‘right to work’. As in the above example, the union has to use resources on even non-dues paying workers. The political Right knows this and the entire objective of ‘right to work’ is not to guarantee anyone a right to have a job, but instead it is aimed at draining the resources that unions have.
The Michigan law must be overturned as it must be in Indiana and other states where it exists. This will necessitate political action by workers and their allies. ‘Right to work’ is a direct threat to democracy and has nothing to do with economic development. It is all about the war that the elite is waging against workers.