Today, the Supreme Court begins to hear oral arguments on the case Janus v. AFSCME, a case which could lead to the expansion of “Right to Work” laws for public sector unions nationwide. Just like the rest of the “Right to Work” movement, Janus is nothing but a smokescreen meant to obscure our glimpse into the unforgiving maw of American capitalism. As socialists and workers who share a common struggle in the workplace, it is our duty to oppose this transgression on working class power.
This case is not something that public sector workers want — it was manufactured out of whole cloth by the forces of greed. Janus is merely one in a line of multiple court cases aimed at attacking fair share fees, the funds that unions collect from every member to ensure a successful contract negotiation campaign. And like Harris v. Quinn and Friedrichs v. CTA, the side arguing for “Right to Work” is not the workers but corporate backed lawyers and foundation funded programs such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The politicians, lawyers, think tanks, judges, dark money and litigants behind Janus and the dozen other nearly identical lawsuits are all bought and paid for by the same small cabal of ghoulish capitalists.
If ALEC and the other monsters behind this attack were truly interested in the well being of workers, they would recognize that in a unionized workplace is more likely to have wage scales and wage transparency, both of which have the effect of reducing gender and race-based wage discrimination. They might also recognized that a unionized workers are more likely to have language in their contract on how to deal with workplace harassment and discrimination, including bypass procedures that allow reporting of harassment to officials other than a supervisor, who may be the harasser. For these reasons and more, public sector unions have been one of the main economic engines by which workers of marginalized identities — gender, racial, or otherwise — have been able to work their way into the nation’s middle class. These benefits were not bestowed on workers by gracious and magnanimous bosses, but were fought for through the threat of collective action against management. Right to Work is a direct attempt to blunt the sword by which we as workers fight for a more equitable workplace.
“Right to Work” proponents will insist that they are simply providing workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union, and that they are ultimately neutral on what workers decide. The labor movement is very familiar with this brand of “neutrality.” We have seen this before, in “neutral” bosses hiring teams of union busting lawyers that corner fellow workers on the job site, mandatory staff meetings that amount to nothing more than anti-union intimidation sessions, and the spreading of outright lies about union campaigns. Make no mistake, the agenda of any individual claiming they want right to work is to hamstring working class power, and ensure workers can not collectively bargain for their rights.
The rich attack unions for a simple reason: they fear the power of the workers united. They fear the power of our bodies, our ability to “make things unworkable”, as Bayard Rustin said. They fear the power of our influence. One of the only remaining counters to the hordes of right wing money in politics is the political might of union workers. Janus v. AFSCME allows the 1% to eliminate both of those fears in one blow.
With Gorsuch appointed by President Trump, a ruling in favor of “Right to Work” is all but certain. ALEC and other shadowy organizations will celebrate this as an ultimate victory over public sector unions and the death knell of the labor movement. And if a union was merely a contract, not a community of workers who have come together to fight shoulder to shoulder for the rights they deserve, they may be right. Now, more than ever, workers from the private and public sector, union and non-union, need to come together and prove them wrong. We must collectively work to support each on the picket line, fighting for labor-friendly candidates and legislation such as card check in every state, and become protagonists in our own struggle by organizing our workplaces. If we can see our struggle as one, the battle to win the full fruits of our labor, unions can survive in Right to Work.
Together, we rise.