As we watch Wisconsin on its way to becoming a “right to work” state, it is a good time to think about what all this means. Note that it shows the total lack of any actual integrity on the part of conservatives. While Scott Walker and others were going about destroying public sector unions, the argument was always that these were public employees and that they thus shouldn’t be allowed to have those fat pay checks. (Leave aside for now the fact that they don’t get over paid and the idea that government workers should be the worst we can get.) But when it comes down to it, they are all for destroying private sector unions as well.
Basically, “right to work” laws take away rights. They make it illegal for a business to make an exclusive contract with a union. Which basically means that the union is destroyed — either quickly or slowly. Given that the United States government hasn’t enforced labor laws in over three decades, businesses that don’t want unions really don’t have to have them. But there it is still bad PR to be had by a business that destroys an existing union, so this is a way to make them wither away on their own. The bottom line is the bottom line: it is a way to take even more money away from workers and give it to owners.
Hooray! Is this what conservative voters really want? Very few of them, I think. But names matter, and “right to work” sounds great! It makes it sound like unions are keeping people unemployed, even though the opposite is true. And there is also the issue that a great many people who are not in unions resent people who are. The worst aspects of human nature play right into the hands of the conservative elites. Workers are much more likely to blame their bad lives on workers who are doing marginally better than they are than to blame the owners who suppress their wages and their rights.
Let’s think about the minimum wage for a moment. I want to shift from thinking about conservatives generally to thinking about libertarians, who are, after all, the keepers of conservative economic thought. The libertarian argument against the minimum wage is not, as most libertarians I talk to seem to think, that it will “cost jobs.” That’s not an ideological argument. The libertarian argument — the “freedom” argument — is that the state has no business interfering in the contracts of the employer and the employee. If workers want to take jobs digging ditches for one dollar per hour for some company, that should be their right as a workers. Now there are all kinds of things wrong with this argument, but let’s just leave it at that.
But when it comes to those same workers wanting to collectively bargain with that same business, the libertarians scream, “No, no, no!” What’s different? Why is the “freedom” to take a low paying job so important, but the freedom of workers to negotiate on something close to an equal footing not? I think the reason should be clear. Libertarians just hate workers and unions. Their idea is that if workers had any gumption, they would have their own businesses. And indeed, I have heard libertarians argue for a world without workers. (This is ridiculous: it is simply a world where everyone is an independent contractor — a world that has never existed for reasons that are obvious to everyone but libertarians. Hint: it’s inefficient.)
To be fair, there are libertarians who are pro-union and very much against “right to work” laws. When I was a libertarian, I was one. And I remember several years back reading an article in Reason by a similarly inclined libertarian against “right to work” laws. And the comments blasted him from beginning to end. I never managed to see a single comment that agreed. And the reason was plain to see: the commenters just hated unions. In their eyes, they were all “entrepreneurs!”
Now some person might point out that liberals have the same problem: they are against “right to work” laws and for the minimum wage. That’s right! The point is that liberals hold these positions because they want to empower workers. Conservatives hold the opposite views because they want to deny power to workers. And as Matt Yglesias would say, “That’s great!” Everyone is entitled to whatever vile ideas they like. But don’t give me any of this garbage about caring about “freedom.” Conservatives care about enriching the rich and empowering the powerful and that is the end of the story.
So now Wisconsin is going to get a new “right” and that is the right to have one less right. Well played conservatives. Well played.
Single panel above taken from the great work at Lefty Cartoons. Go buy a shirt!