Wednesday, May 10, 2017

S.B. 1040 made it out of the Oregon House Committee with a DO PASS recommendation. The Freedom Foundation loses a round.

In 2016 the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Kentucky essentially ruled that local political subdivisions can adopt "right-to-work" legislation, adding chaos to U.S. labor relations and making it even more difficult for unions to survive and fight back. Supporters of the decision most often refer to companion court rulings and legislative actions from the deep south in order to argue that there is a rising tide against unionization, and they sometimes mention that the American Legislative Exchange Council and other "right-to-work" groups pushed for the legislation and then went into court against the unions. It was not a fair fight. The employers and the "right-to-work" groups again demonstrated that their ideology is based in the old planter aristocracy of the deep south and in service to the modern monopolies and to the right-wing forces which have taken over local municipalities and counties with racist, sexist and "religious" scare tactics.

You can read the court decision here.

It is reasonable to assume that Oregon will see more moves in this direction. An attempt to push "right-to-work" in Coos County failed on constitutional grounds, but hate groups like the Freedom Foundation remain at it. SB 1040/HB 3420 aims to prevent "right-to-work" in the private sector by disallowing local jurisdictions, or cities and counties from passing right-to-work ordinances which apply in the private sector. It's a good thing---not as good as aggressive union organizing, closed-shop agreements, building cultures of solidarity, and strengthening all labor protections and advancements, but it's a good thing because, if passed, it will hold the line in a few key counties against the Freedom Foundation and its allies, block the far-right and provide some needed breathing room for working class people.

The snake oil salesman from the Freedom Foundation was at it today at the legislature, making a poorly-prepared and weak statistically-driven pitch to the legislators. They argued that Oregon competes with Idaho and Washington and is held back by union contracts, that unions retard rather than advance economic well-being, that workers should have a (mythical) right to associate or not with unions, and that unions form a monopoly. It's nonsense, but it's their argument.

Labor was on the defense at the State Capitol today, even though the bill properly belongs to labor and our progressive allies. The usual labor arguments were made that unionization helps capitalism, that balance in the system is lacking but needed, that a middle-class depends on unionization and that Idaho is doing much worse than Oregon since "right-to-work" passed there. An AFL-CIO representative made a case for bipartisan support for the bill. A representative of the Oregon Nurses Association made a compelling case for unionism by talking about the history of her union and the contribution ONA has made in winning safe staffing levels.

It was good that the gloves came off for at least a few moments during the hearing. The legislators, the labor representatives and that poor lost soul from the Freedom Foundation could have agreed to sidestep the issue of unionization and make this about local control. Instead, there was a debate about unionization and the relative advantages of workers carrying union cards. Representatives Bynum, Evans, Holvey and Doherty got it right, more or less, and their pictures are now probably pinned to dart boards at the Freedom Foundation. Representative Janelle Bynum deserves some special support from progressive people, I think. Representatives Barreto, Hack and Heard need to go.

I think that a case can be made that some private sector union agreements do indeed help capitalism function and that they do indeed help people in rural areas and people of color in most urban areas in the short run most of the time. But it is the promise of a union agreement which makes the difference, I think---the promise that improvements and advances can come over time, that every union contract can be part of an organizing strategy to win more members and more active members, and the promise that labor organizing and winning contracts can politicize workers and be a living example of (capitalist) democracy with all of its contradictions and virtues. It's these contradictions and our ability to win workers over to our side which builds the capacity for change.

What our liberal friends always fall short on saying is that we need union contracts because there is an unrelenting war against unions and workers carried out by the capitalists and their allies and loyal servants. Too much time was spent by our liberal friends today proclaiming that workers can opt out of unions; more time should be spent talking about how we get our people into unions. Contracts are not so much about balance---or they should not be---but about protecting what workers have in order gain more ground for every working-class person. And we have a world to win!

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