Clarence Page today in the Chicago Tribune explained the origin of the phrase "right to work" is that the laws grant workers the right to work through a strike, and praises the phrase as something even 1984 author George Orwell would be quite proud of.
But we all know right to work laws are also intended to neuter unions by undercutting their means of collecting dues from all workers at a workplace. Thus, the union is not being fully paid to represent workers at a workplace, and no longer has resources to campaign against Republicans.
OK, so, what the heck do I mean by let them have their laws? A couple things:
- Unions are losing the messaging war, and need to focus on a winning message.
- The method of workplace organizing we are defending when fighting right-to-work laws, mandatory dues, is a 19th century solution. Last time I checked, we were in the 21st century, and unions' effectiveness has been on the decline for decades. We need a different approach of organizing workers on different levels that makes passage of right-to-work laws less important.
First, the messaging war... I'm not against unions having the ability to collect dues from all workers in a workplace, however there is an element of unfairness to this system that is extremely easy to exploit when messaging these laws to voters. Joe and Judy Sixpack might say.... Right to work? Sure, who doesn't want to work! And, well, I guess it's unfair to collect dues from my Republican coworkers.
And what is the opposite of right to work that unions are selling to us? Anyone? Beuller? Beuller? Seriously, what do you even call it? Right to collect? Mandatory dues workplace? Right to oppress?
That's the messaging mess we are up against. GOP, corporate and mainstream media have painted the unions into a corner, and we keep trying to fight on their turf. That is a clear sign that it's time to change the subject. And that's exactly my suggestion: Every time a right to work law comes up, unions should be discussing their new amazing strategy & technology to organize workers in America.
Huh? Oh yeah, that was bullet point #2 above... union dues being withheld from a paycheck is an old strategy for which time has come and gone. Is not the decades-long decline of union membership evidence enough that we need a new strategy to unite our voices to advocate for workers rights?
In a cursory glance around the AFL-CIO's site, I found this somewhat interesting Working for America, which appears to be an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and offers some minimal benefits due to that affiliation. While I wholeheartedly support the idea of a national union organization, why was this the first I heard about it? Why is this not being plugged every single time a Democratic politician or union official gets in the media? Only 3 million members? This thing should have 43 million... maybe 143 million members! Unfortunately, from my brief analysis, I don't find this organization particularly compelling, but I can imagine it could be made so fairly easily.
Having a viable national workers union is not a new idea, but we have plenty of new technology they can take advantage of to organize in new ways. Crowd-sourcing, the concept of self-organization online, has a lot of promise for unions. We have been shown by the Sandy response, Occupy, and recent election cycles, that the internet can be used to bring these elements together. Online micro-financing such as kick-starter for example has empowered small-time investors to collaborate and have a bigtime impact.
Why cannot that same philosophy be applied to union organizing in so-called right to work states? Make online tools available for workers to associate outside the workplace, discuss issues and vote for policies they want to advocate for with their employers? And if enough support it financially, begin negotiations with employers with the help of national or state level union folks?
Wouldn't it be amazing for union officials to approach an employer like Amazon.com, know for a very rough work environment, armed with rich information about employee concerns? You know, the kinds of concerns that today's employees are smart enough to NOT tell their human resources department about because they know that the squeaky wheel gets the first pink slip when they're being handed out? Wages, work conditions, work hours, waste, fraud and abuse?
Yeah, that's what Unions could be doing today to a non-union shop like Amazon. And you know what? I'm pretty sure a lot of Amazonians would pay $50 or $100 to see if an experiment like that would work. Or Microsofties, or Googlers, Apple bytes, whatever. But clearly this kind of impact could go far beyond the silicon valley type of workers... industrial, service, government, military? Even financial industry workers could see some strength in numbers, and, who knows, unite to do something about the complete lack of morality in that industry today.
Defending right to collect dues may make short term sense, but is a long term losing strategy. We need unions with vision to move beyond this 19th century strategy if we want an effective counter-balance to corporate and big money influence. And we need it now.