The U.S. Supreme Court has delivered a hard blow to the U.S. working class with their outrageous decision in Janus vs. AFSCME.
The ruling eliminates the “fair share fees” of public-sector unions. Just as in “right to work” states, these unions will now have to represent workers who are not required to pay any fee for that service. Big business is surely happy, since its goal is to bankrupt public-sector unions as part of a larger scheme to privatize public services and reverse the clock on a century of hard-won social and economic gains.
This decision by the high court comes on the heels of a series of others attacking the rights of Muslims, queers, women and workers.
Clearly this is an all-out war on every worker’s right to band together with their coworkers and fight for fair pay and dignity on the job. So it is time to leave behind the fake “labor peace” of yesterday, where unions surrendered their most effective weapon, the strike, in return for fair share fees. As a result of that bargain, public employees have been getting downsized, short-staffed, and shaken down for years.
The only rational response for labor is to fight like hell. The teachers’ rebellions sweeping the country are an inspiring example of how to do that in these reactionary times. Educators are going on strike regardless of whether or not their actions are legal or sanctioned. They recognize that public education is under siege, and their boldness is garnering both widespread support and victories. It is time to recall that public employee unions were largely built through a nationwide wave of illegal strikes in the nineteen sixties and seventies.
Unions, whose numbers have been cut in half since 1983, now represent fewer than 11 percent of workers. But union membership is more than five times stronger in the public sphere than in the private, with over 34 percent of employees represented. By debilitating public-sector unions, the corporate right wing has as its aim making the whole country “right to work” and disarming employees everywhere of their collective power to stand up for themselves. And let’s not forget the racist roots of “right to work,” a scheme initiated by white supremacists in the U.S. South to better divide workers and perpetuate Jim Crow.
The ultimate goal of union-busting is to deepen the exploitation of all workers. But the Janus decision will hit first and hardest at women and people of color, who predominate in public jobs. This is truest for Black women, who make up nearly 18 percent of public workers. Workers of color and women know full well that without unions they are more vulnerable to the bigotry and discriminatory practices of their bosses. This is why they have been in the forefront of battles to unionize time and again, and why we can expect that they will be the most committed fighters to save organized labor.
The Democratic Party, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell included, shares the blame for today’s ruling with the Republican Party. When former President Obama put forward a Supreme Court nominee sympathetic to unions, Republicans successfully stopped the appointment by filibustering for over a year! When President Trump put forward his nominee, Neil Gorsuch, Democrats responded in half-hearted style, never calling for public protest. Senator Cantwell expressed “concerns I have,” without a word of worry for unions. Predictably, their polite filibuster flopped, and the rest is history.
Congress could and should stand up for workers’ rights. It could remove all state restrictions on public employee strikes and could initiate a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the unfettered right to organize unions. These are steps the working class could push for while building the kind of broad, grass-roots, fierce movement able to breathe new life into the labor movement and to settle scores with its opponents in high places.
– Steve Hoffman