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right-to-work sleight of hand

January 15, 2013

I think John Medearis’s article “Freeway to Serfdom?” makes an interesting point regarding right-to-work legislation. On the one hand, conservative proponents of right-to-work legislation often use the argument that unions force workers to pay dues, which they say restricts the individual worker’s freedom to not pay dues. Hence right-to-work legislation is portrayed as ‘freeing’ workers from the oppression of ‘greedy’ labour unions.

However, this argument ignores the fact that most employers restrict an individual worker’s freedom far more than the payment of union dues does, and they certainly don’t seem to be all that keen to support anything that gives the worker more freedom from the oppression of their ‘greedy’ employer and more control over their labour time. (It’s also interesting to note that the same people often argue the worker has the freedom to find a different job if they don’t like the one they have and/or their employer, yet they curiously fail to extend this argument to the worker having the freedom to find a different job if they don’t want to work at a unionized workplace and/or pay union dues.)

Furthermore, it neglects the fact that these dues are in a sense an obligation of the worker’s from their own conservative point of view, i.e., it’s a payment on the part of the worker to the union for services rendered (the union’s advocacy, protection, the contract it helped to negotiate that the worker benefits from, etc.), an exchange conservatives hold sacred in every other circumstance.

In essence, they’re using the state to restrict the freedom of unions to negotiate and agree to certain contract provisions in order to make unionized workers more free, which is kind of like giving with one hand and taking with the other.

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