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The real face behind today’s “Right to Work” push

By Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President

(Editor’s Note: The following President’s Message column is excerpted from the November/December issue of the Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen News.)

CLEVELAND, December 20 — In the days before writing this month’s message, anti-working class forces in Michigan showed America just how little they think of the working class of this great nation. On December 11, Michigan Governor and former venture capitalist Richard Snyder signed a law that will make Michigan the 24th state to encourage workers to freeload the wages and benefits negotiated by the unions that represent them — and force their co-workers to shoulder a disproportionate share of representation costs — by refusing to pay union dues or fees. This bill was placed on his desk by a lame duck Republican-controlled state legislature, who adopted it without any formal debate or discussion, with the corporate-owned politicians who voted for the legislation protected by armed police from their own constituents.

This is the first post-election battle in the War on Workers in America, and is brazenly misrepresented as providing so-called “worker choice.” In fact, Governor Snyder actually had the gall to say that he did not see the law as anti-union, but instead as pro-worker. Ironically, this claim was belied by Snyder’s very next statement, which exposed his true intent: “We’ll then be more competitive as a state and that’s good for all of us.” The problem for working class Americans — in this case Michigan workers — is the “us” that Governor Snyder is actually referring to.

For more than a generation states and municipalities have outbid one another to relieve corporations of their income and property tax obligations to persuade companies to stay in or move to that state, city or town. This form of “corporate welfare” has become commonplace even though it pushes the resulting shortfall in state and local treasuries and resulting tax burden onto the backs of working class Americans. So, when Governor Snyder and his ilk talk about being “more competitive” because of “right to work,” the reality is that they’re giving workers the right to work for less, and not just because of a higher tax burden; a 2001 study by the Economic Policy Institute shows that wages in “right to work” states are 3.2% lower than in states where everyone in a unionized workplace financially supports their representative. The form of competition that Governor Snyder is pushing is the textbook race to the bottom for working class Americans, and it comes entirely at the expense of all who hope to find good paying jobs with decent benefits. What Governor Snyder and all other “right to work” states are telling Corporate America is “Come to our state, where you can treat workers like you did before Labor Unions got in your way.”

As President Clinton pointed out at the Democratic Convention earlier this year, it’s all about “arithmetic” … in this case, less for workers and more for corporations. Governor Snyder is not playing with the State’s money in making Michigan “more competitive,” he is playing with the wages, benefits and tax payments of working Michiganders. Even though the Supreme Court, through its decision in Citizens United, may consider corporations as people under the law, there is no evidence that corporations feel any financial compassion towards their workers when not required to by union contract. Even then, as every BLET member knows, it’s a daily fight to get employers to live up to the contracts they sign. Nor is there any evidence that corporations feel any shame in the way that they distribute revenues. In fact, the ratio of CEO salaries to worker salaries is now 475 to 1 in America, which is the most lopsided of all industrialized countries in the world.

This last statistic unmasks those who are behind “right to work” legislation in this country, and you can rest assured that their goal has nothing to do with giving working class Americans so-called “choices,” or anything else that truly benefits them. Quite to the contrary, the “right to work” movement in this country was an anti-worker force to be reckoned with, under other names, as far back as the World War I era; the movement adopted its current identity when FDR signed the Wagner Act into law in the 1930s. This law created union security by federalizing the worker civil rights that had been wrested from the employers’ armed thugs in battles at places named River Rouge, Republic Steel, and Auto-Lite, to mention just three.

The only way for Corporate America to accomplish those goals is to destroy workers’ rights and their ability to collectively bargain with their employers. The actions of corporate-sponsored “right to work” crusaders then and now underscore the importance of core union values like “An injury to one is an injury to all,” “Our strength is in our numbers,” and “United we stand, divided we fall.” Our unity, our strength, and our vision that all men and women are created equal and deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity is what these anti-worker corporate groups are actually working against with their cynically named “employee choice” movement.

In the most hypocritical of moments during the Michigan outrage, Governor Snyder said that unions just need to work harder, and workers who now have a choice will join them if they do. We know all too well how our employers enjoy a world where they abuse their workers, and then encourage the workers to blame their union for not stopping the abuse. Many of our own members have fallen for that ruse over the years, and what started as an attack from the outside has at times evolved into attacks from within. And the political hucksters like Snyder who claim the solution is that unions just have to work harder are the same right wing extremists who have stacked the legal deck against unions accomplishing that.

Many generations ago, our Brotherhood’s Delegates in Convention assembled adopted the following resolution, which is just as relevant today: “RESOLVED, That the entire organization is hereby warned against the insidious approaches of any and all enemies of the organization and the machinations of capital and its agents, who are now using and will continue to use all the power and influence of centralized wealth with the purpose of dividing our councils and, if possible, destroying our organization.”

Corporate America has opened a new front in the War on Workers, and has attacked the birthplace of both the BLET and the modern industrial labor movement. If they succeed in further weakening unions, who will stand in their way as they work to undo the entire New Deal? Well, they may think they can chase unions out of Michigan, but they’re wrong.

Next May 8 the BLET will celebrate the 150th Anniversary of its founding as the Brotherhood of the Footboard, and preparations already are under way to commemorate this historic event in Detroit, where our founding convention was held. Join me in fighting the latest attack on unions and middle class that unions help to create. Mark your calendar now and help me deliver a message to Governor Snyder, the politicians of Michigan and elsewhere, and the bosses who pull their strings:

“Proud to be American and Proud to be Union” isn’t a slogan … it’s a way of life.

Thursday, December 20, 2012
bentley@ble-t.org

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