Commentary

From the departments of overkill and “what are they afraid of?”: Lawmakers advance anti-union constitutional amendment

In 2017, there can be no doubt that North Carolina is one of the most hostile states in America to labor unions. In a time in which corporate greed already reigns supreme and corporate-sponsored politicians have been waging an unrelenting and frequently successful war on working people and their families, generally, the union movement in North Carolina is a small and beleaguered cause. Though it is often enormously creative, plucky, and determined and doing great things for all working people in the state (not just the tiny fragment of the workforce it represents officially), the North Carolina union movement poses about as much of a threat the hegemony enjoyed by state’s “powers that be” as the children’s or mental health lobbies.

State law already makes forming a viable labor union bargaining unit extremely difficult and bans it altogether for public employees. And these laws were put in place by Democrats.

Such a state of affairs, however, is clearly insufficient to satisfy the hard Right in the General Assembly. In a legislative session already marked by an relentless effort to demolish the public structures and rules that provide some hope for the preservation of a middle class society, market fundamentalists aim, like Godfather Michael Corleone, to “wipe out all their enemies.”

And so it was that a House committee today advanced two bills (House Bills 819 and 820) — one of them an amendment to the state constitution, for heaven’s sake — to, in effect, re-pass the state law that makes North Carolina a “right to work” state.

As the good people at the AFL-CIO of North Carolina explained earlier today, this is an absurd, unnecessary and cynically partisan act:

An effort by right-wing Republican state lawmakers to put North Carolina’s Jim Crow-era “right to work” (RTW) law in the state constitution with a November 2018 ballot measure is about protecting Republican legislative and congressional majorities in the midterm election.North Carolina has had a free rider [i.e. a “right to work] law since 1947….

Adding so-called RTW language to the state constitution after 70 years without it is unnecessary, wastes taxpayer dollars, and moves North Carolina in the wrong direction.

Working people in states with free rider laws like North Carolina’s make an average of $1550 less per year than in other states, and 9 of the 15 states plus DC with the highest unemployment rates are free rider states.

Research demonstrates that higher union membership leads to higher wages and greater access to health and retirement benefits–for union and non-union members alike. In fact, by any measure – wages, benefits, economic mobility, wealth, income inequality, wage inequality, poverty – unions help build the middle class.

And here’s the on-the-money explanation of the actual motivation behind the bills: 

So why are Republican state lawmakers so hell-bent on attacking unions with an unnecessary ballot measure?

Maybe it’s because they’re fearful of an electoral backlash to the election of Donald Trump when voters go to the polls again in midterm elections next year.

When working people work together and vote together to secure their economic interests in the workplace and in the public policy debate, corporate special interests and their bought politicians lose.

The right-wing Republican state lawmakers behind the proposed free rider, so-called RTW amendment seem to be signalling their intent to revert to the same fear- and resentment-based politics that led to the election of Donald Trump.

Instead of trying to “divide and conquer” working people, as U.S. Senator Thom Tillis infamously described the strategy in 2011, lawmakers should focus on winning votes by raising wages, fully funding public education, expanding healthcare, and stop pursuing failed “trickle-down” tax policy that transfers wealth away from the working poor and the middle class.

Stay tuned. It will be interesting to see whether — as has been the case with so many other recent incidents of conservative overreach — the anti-union attack ends up backfiring on it authors.

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