One major problem with Democrats playing defense for the better part of the last fifty years is that entire epochs have gone by without Democrats making strong cases for the world they would like to see, instead of the world they would like to defend. Even though this is the worst time for political and social justice in my life (although there’s a good chance it will get worse at some point), I do feel the tide is changing on some of these issues. Bernie Sanders’ bill for single-payer with over a dozen Democratic co-sponsors is a big deal. This doesn’t just defend the ACA from Republican attacks. It frames the ACA as it should be framed–a flawed but necessary bill that we can improve upon and that we must improve upon. It articulates a future of government-paid health care that is what we should be fighting for, however the details get worked out. As a side note, the idea that Bernie’s bill somehow opened the door to Graham-Cassidy is literally the stupidest and most utterly irresponsible way to relitigate the 2016 primaries yet, a notion shared by my illustrious colleague.
In any case, we need a lot more of this. Offering Americans an alternative to the bad policies of the Trump administration is necessary, but offering them an alternative to the bad policies from both parties in the last half-century is also necessary. Thus I was highly pleased to see Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin, Maggie Hassan, Ed Markey, Jeff Merkley, and Kirsten Gillibrand unite to introduce legislation to ban states from enacting so-called “right to work” laws.
So-called “right-to-work” laws, while sounding like a grassroots campaign to help employees, are actually not worker-friendly. These laws don’t actually protect anybody’s right to work—they’re merely bans that prohibit labor unions from forging agreements with employers mandating that everyone working for that employer must be a union member.
Critics of “right-to-work” laws point out that they weaken unions and lead to decreased wages. In fact, a 2011 study of RTW states and non-RTW states showed that the biggest difference between workers in the two categories was that average and median wages were significantly higher in non-RTW states (by as much as 16 percent).
Now, Elizabeth Warren is attempting to repeal these “right-to-work” laws by introducing a bill called the Protecting Workers and Improving Labor Standards Act. Other senators and congressmen have joined her.
Congressman Brad Sherman, in a post on his website, declared his involvement in the bill, and added further that RTW “encourages a race to the bottom, as states compete to attract employers by offering weak labor laws and, as a result, lower wages.” Sherman affirms his commitment to stronger unions, ones that don’t have to support “free riders” who receive the benefits of the union but don’t pay any dues.
Obviously this is not going to pass this Congress or be signed by this president. But neither is single payer. Yet we see single payer being an absolute requirement for anyone who aspires to be the Democratic nominee in 2020, which is why nearly every possible Democratic candidate in the Senate signed on, even those with shaky records in the past, such as Cory Booker. That should only be the first of our demands. It should also become standard Democratic Party dogma to ban right to work legislation. Democrats should also call for universal free childcare, free higher education, and the constitutional right to a job. That’s the progressive future we should want and demand. Moreover, as talks abound about renegotiating NAFTA, banning these right to work laws also have support from our partners, as Canadians are highly concerned about cheap American labor stealing their jobs.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau agrees that NAFTA does not do enough to establish common labor standards for the North American continent. But he doesn’t think that Trump needs to look quite so far south to find a place that’s undercutting American workers: In 28 U.S. states, so-called “right-to-work” laws inhibit the ability of workers to unionize, thereby holding down wages, and encouraging companies in America’s other 22 states to ship jobs across our nation’s (internal) borders.
These laws undermine organized labor by allowing workers who join a unionized workplace to enjoy the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement without paying dues to the union that negotiated it. This has the effect of encouraging other workers to skirt their dues, which can then drain a union of the funds it needs to survive.
Trudeau has called for a revised NAFTA to prohibit such laws, so as to protect Canadians from losing jobs to cheap American labor.
Of course, turning America into the world’s sweatshop is the actual goal of American capitalists. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s good for our workers and it’s good for the workers of the world too.