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Union-busters in Kentucky and Wisconsin are traveling different paths to push “right to work.”

Right to Work Fight

In the Bluegrass State, they’re backing county RTW ordinances while claiming their sole aim is promoting local economic development, not union-busting.

In the Dairy State, where the GOP-majority legislature just approved a RTW law, the union-busters are hawking RTW with old-fashioned labor-baiting.

At a Wisconsin legislative hearing, Greg Mourad, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee, took the gloves off.

He asked lawmakers to “Imagine leaving the [Capitol] today, ready to get some food when a cab pulls up. Two guys grab you, throw you into the back of the cab. The driver announces that the cab is on its way to Green Bay. You protest. But the other passengers don't let you out. They pull over in Green Bay, the car stops, they untie you and demand $300."

Mourad said such “is the way that unions in Wisconsin organize, and why the bill [which Republican Gov. Scott Walker is set to sign] should be passed,” reported Jonas Persson of The Center for Media and Democracy.

Founded in 1955, the NRTW committee has never made much of the RTW is good-for-the-economy argument. “We’re not purporting to prove that right-to-work produces superior economic performance,” said NRTWC spokesperson Stanley Greer, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Reed Larson, longtime NRTWC head, despised unions and made no bones about it.

“The union hierarchy, operating on billions of dollars plucked from workers’ paychecks, comprises a political machine unmatched by any other in America—a political machine whose philosophy consistently lines up with the socialist fringe in its assault on the rights of individual citizens to live their lives free of government intervention,” he railed in a 1999 speech.

“Unless we deal with this fundamental injustice, all of the valiant efforts to prevent our country from being engulfed in a flood-tide of leftist social engineering are destined to failure. The special coercive privileges enjoyed by union officials under federal law have enabled them to amass a degree of political power behind their collectivist schemes that no other special interest comes close to matching. Their power to dictate public policy is out of all proportion to the number of persons whose views they truly represent.”

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Added Larson, who also belonged to the reactionary John Birch Society, “Whatever your concern, whether it be taxes, education, health care, the economy, or myriad other issues that need addressing, you can be assured that the propagation of the statist, anti-freedom position on each of those issues is being funded largely with union money, essentially seized at gun point from workers.”

Larson isn’t the only RTW heavyweight who has battled bare-knucks against unions, according to Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, a labor historian and author at Loyola University of Chicago. “It’s almost as if we were living in pre-war Germany,” she quoted from a pro-RTW Arizona radio ad from 1946. “These despotic little labor racketeers, the would-be Hitlers, must be crushed now -- once and for all -- before it’s too late.”

Shermer also cited Republican RTW backer Barry Goldwater, the Arizona senator who ran for president in 1964. She said that during the Depression, he wrote editorials in The Phoenix Gazette denouncing President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, “for turn[ing] over to the racketeering practices of ill-organized unions the future of the working man.”

In the South, where every ex-Confederate state is a RTW state, some of the most ardent early RTW supporters were white supremacist Democrats who hated and feared unions because in a union everybody is equal. (The mostly white GOP, which now dominates Dixie politics, is as rabidly anti-union as the segregationist Democrats were.)

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The powers-that-be in Jim Crow Dixie often equated unions with carpetbaggers and communists. “This outside influence is just a bunch of pot-bellied Yankees with big cigars in their mouths and the dues they collect will just go up North,” Shermer quoted a Southern pro-RTW handbill introduced into The Congressional Record in 1953. “If they come in, you will share the same restroom with Negroes and work side by side with them. It comes right out of Russia and is pure communism and nothing else.”

State right to work laws are legal under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. The measure’s sponsors, Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio and Rep. Fred Hartley of New Jersey, were fiercely anti-union Republicans.

Taft-Hartley was designed to curb gains unions had made during the New Deal, notably the 1935 Wagner Act, which established the fundamental right of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively.

Taft said the Wagner Act left business owners “practically at the mercy of unions.”

Hartley called the landmark legislation “ill-conceived and disastrously executed.” He also charged that, “During the New Deal, labor unions were coddled, nursed, and pampered.”

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He was proud that Taft-Hartley “wiped out, in a single enactment, the main legal prop supporting a national labor policy which had existed for twelve years.”

Berry Craig