Republicans in the Washington State Legislature and Congress are introducing bills this week that would institute so-called “right-to-work” policies in Washington and nationally, an attempt to deliver a severe blow to the labor movement and weaken workers’ collective bargaining rights at the behest of U.S. corporations.
Right-to-work laws ban unions and employers from agreeing to union-security contract clauses, which allows workers to stop paying for representation while still requiring the union to represent them. It would be akin to allowing people to opt out of paying taxes, but still requiring the government to provide the same services to taxpayers and free-riders alike.
Right-to-work laws have roots in Southern racism and the Jim Crow-era quest for super-exploited labor. They are used to justify racial exclusion, weaken established collective bargaining agreements, and financially cripple unions so they can’t help workers organize. Once confined to states in the South, Republican-controlled states like Michigan and Wisconsin have adopted right-to-work laws in recent years with the support of conservative billionaire industrialists like the Koch brothers. States where the GOP just gained control following the 2016 elections, including Missouri and New Hampshire, are making right-to-work laws their first order of business in 2017.