“Right to work” essentially means “right to work without joining a union” or, as former president Obama put it when Michigan joined the trend in 2012, “the right to work for less money.”
The Smithfield campaign resulted in the first union contract for 5,000 workers at a massive pork operation in North Carolina, then the state with the lowest union membership in the nation. As depicted in the 2016 documentary Union Time and in Jane McAlevey’s 2016 book No Shortcuts, the sixteen-year struggle was not only a victory for labor but a demonstration of class solidarity in the face of racism and nativism.
When union density was at its height, CEOs made twenty-five times the annual compensation of the average worker. Today the factor is around 350.
Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” and other such cynical measures arguably have more to do with cutting labor costs than curtailing the flow of illegal immigration. “To employers, migration is a labor-supply system,” writes David Bacon, a photojournalist who studies labor issues on both sides of the US-Mexico border. “US immigration policy is not intended to keep people from crossing the border; it determines the status of people once they are in the United States.” In short, a fearful workforce is easier to exploit.
Proposed by George Bush but pushed through by Bill Clinton, the North American Free Trade Agreement resulted in an estimated net loss of more than 800,000 American jobs between its ratification in 1994 and 2011. Rightly seen as a corporate-backed initiative to cut labor costs, NAFTA also had devastating effects in Mexico, where the dumping of US goods on local markets contributed to the loss of 1.3 million jobs in agriculture, a sector that still employs nearly a fifth of the population. A number of our migrant farmworkers were once farmers in their own country.
Introduced in 2003, the EFCA would have imposed higher penalties on employers for workplace violations, which in practice often carry no meaningful penalty at all. Its most controversial provision allowed for unions to be legally certified by “card check” as an alternative to secret-ballot elections. The act passed the House in 2006 but failed in the Senate and ended there.
Sometimes, too, the workers out there in the community see ways for their industries to better serve the public. The ATU, for example, is attempting to build partnerships with riders’ groups to protect and expand public transportation. Mark Dimondstein, the head of the APWU, told me that post offices ought to be able to provide “broad-strokes financial services” such as check cashing, which would “continue the role of the Postal Service in binding people together” and counter “the payday-lending-and-cashing industry, which is just preying on working people and the poor.”
Union staff are not necessarily recruited from the rank and file. And some union staff are represented by unions other than those that employ them. Jackie Traynere is a national organizer for the American Federation of Government Employees but pays her dues to the Communication Workers of America. “No one ever said that because you’re working for a union you’re going to be treated fairly,” she says. “Management is management.”
The crowning irony of the red-baiting of the “Communist-led” unions and the accompanying charges of “dictatorship” is that they were some of the least corrupt and most democratic unions of their time. There is no documented case of any “red” union acting to undermine the national security of the United States. Unions, not the Soviet Union, were the primary target.
According to a 2017 survey by the European Commission, 80 percent of Swedes expressed “positive” views of automation and artificial intelligence, technologies that caused “worry” in 72 percent of Americans responding to a Pew Research Center survey. The difference has nothing to do with native pessimism or optimism; the majority in each country responded realistically on the basis of their own social contract. Socialist robots and capitalist robots serve different masters.
One of Fletcher’s mentors was the late Theodore W. Allen, whose theory of “the invention of the white race” holds that the codification of white skin privilege arose from the fear of black slaves and white indentured servants making common cause. Race was used to undercut class consciousness. In the words of Frederick Douglass: “They divided both to conquer each.”
One of the reasons European unions have fared better than their US counterparts is that they are not engaged in costly battles to achieve and then retain benefits that social democracies provide for all citizens as a matter of course. France devotes 31.5 percent of its national budget to social spending; the United States, 19.3 percent.