Workers and the World Unite
Workers and the World Unite
Don’t let the name fool you. “Right to Work” laws have nothing to do with securing your right to work. Instead, “Right to Work” laws are designed to weaken unions by allowing workers to gain all the benefits of being in a union like higher wages, job security, and representation before management without paying union dues. These laws devastate the ability for unions to fight for their members as they lack the funding and infrastructure to operate. This in turn will cost the worker more money, as wages and benefits stagnate. The Pro Act would negate these laws on the spot, helping unions fight for the benefits their members deserve.
Bosses will tell you that union dues serve as a “tax” on workers, but the benefits of being a union member far outweigh the small cost of union dues. That is has been confirmed by research time and time again. When funding comes from member dues, members make the decisions—not outside interests.
Right to work laws were first introduced in the South in the mid 1940s. Powerful business groups were terrified that multi-racial labor unions would pose a threat to racial segregation. By 1947, 12 states would adopt “Right to Work” laws. Recognizing the racist origins of these laws, Martin Luther King Jr. said: “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. It is supported by Southern segregationists who are trying to keep us from achieving our civil rights and our right of equal job opportunity. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone.”
Right to Work laws hurt the environment too; they are prevalent in almost every state with a large fossil-fuel industry. As a direct result, just around 10% of workers in the fossil-fuel industry are in a labor union. To make matters worse, “Right to Work” laws incentivize companies to relocate jobs to states where workers can be paid less and there are fewer worker protections, leading to a race to the bottom.
Secondary strikes are one of the most powerful tools workers have against capitalist bosses. Instead of shutting just one business down with a strike, workers can unite to shut down many. Secondary strikes, also known as indirect strikes, or solidarity strikes, are when one union goes on strike to support another union. The Pullman Strike of 1894 began in Chicago as a wildcat walkout of 4,000 workers in the factories that made railcars and ballooned into a mass labor action of 250,000 workers in a two-month long “sympathy strike” across 27 states. Similarly the months-long Minneapolis General Strike of 1934 saw waves of militancy across the Teamsters and building trades. This weapon was so strong that capitalists knew they had to make it illegal, which they did in the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.
Secondary strikes are critical for winning sweeping demands like a Green New Deal. Legalizing secondary strikes will allow workers to unify their demands, using waves of strikes across sectors and industries to bring the economy to a halt and force capitalists to bargain on our terms. Our strikes will garner widespread public support, broadening the movement.
Imagine Amazon workers striking to demand safer conditions at warehouses, backed by teachers striking to support the parents of their students who work there–but also to demand green spaces for their students, like UTLA successfully did in 2019. And picture the communities where the warehouses are located coming out in solidarity with the strikers, while also calling on Amazon to stop polluting their neighborhood with gas-guzzling delivery trucks. With strong unions and secondary strikes, we can turn climate strikes into general strikes–and win a Green New Deal.
To prevent climate collapse, we need to move from a resource-intensive, consumption-based economy built on inequality, to a sustainable economy built to guarantee the public good. We need a new wave of not just green jobs, but good green jobs.
Green jobs include jobs building and maintaining green infrastructure, like renewable energy and mass transit. Yet for the most part, green capitalists are just like any other capitalist: they fear the collective power of organized workers and do anything in their power to undermine unionization at the workplaces. Just 9% of workers in clean energy sectors are unionized (above US average, but still very low). Many are wrongly classified as independent contractors and denied benefits, which the PRO Act would fix.
Green jobs also include low-carbon work in the care economy: nursing, teaching, child care, and home care for the elderly and disabled. The care economy has expanded rapidly in recent decades. Today, it is the largest sector of US employment, including in many regions associated with the fossil fuel industry. The overwhelming majority of workers in the care economy are women, and disproportionately women of color. In the last year we watched as so many were called “essential” yet treated like they’re disposable.
Many care workers work in a gray area of labor protections, leaving them especially vulnerable to employers. The growth of the care economy means that our society depends on, and takes advantage of, low-wage workers to make life possible. In the 1980s, 56% of new low-wage jobs were care jobs; in the 1990s, 63% were; and in the 2000s, 74% were. But only 8% of workers across health care, social assistance, and education are in unions.
Unionized care workers have higher wages, more stable schedules, and better benefits, including access to health care for themselves and their families. We all depend on care workers, and this gives them tremendous power when organized. When they wield that power, they fight for all of us, as we’ve seen in the teachers’ strikes of the last decade, and strikes at nursing homes and hospitals for PPE and safe staffing. Unionized care workers can also fight for the extension of labor protections and standards to workers currently unprotected by federal law. To create a sustainable economy around sustainable energy and work, we must ensure every green job is a union job.
Essential workers, who keep society running, are less likely to be unionized. Only 1.9% of agricultural workers are unionized, and 4.2% of food services–both much lower than the already abysmal 6.3% of private sector workers that belong to a union. (See above for more on care sector workers.) Unionizing these sectors would empower workers who are heavily exploited due to their citizenship status: 69% of undocumented immigrant workers hold jobs that are deemed essential.
The PRO Act will enable millions of freelancers and independent contractors to unionize and collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions (without altering their status as freelancers and independent contractors). Learn more at https://nwu.org/the-national-writers-union-and-the-freelance-solidarity-project-support-the-pro-act/ .
Copyright © DSA 2021
Copyright © DSA 2021