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Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan Says, ‘Right to Work’ is Rooted in Racism

Bill Londrigan, Kentucky State AFL-CIO president Bill Londrigan

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

“Right to work” proponents hate it when somebody exposes the racist roots of RTW.

“These are Jim Crow era laws to divide black against white,” Kentucky State AFL-CIO president Bill Londrigan told delegates at the federation’s recent biennial convention in Lexington.

In the 1940s and 50s, ten of the 11 ex-Confederate states were among the first states to pass RTW laws. Segregation and race discrimination were the law and the social order in Dixie.

In a union, everybody is equal. Thus, white supremacist legislators and governors feared unions would undermine the Jim Crow system, so they eagerly hopped on the RTW bandwagon.

Londrigan added that conservative politicians beyond the old Confederacy embraced RTW because the laws “divide everybody at the work site. ‘Right to work’ was an ingenious concept to break down union solidarity.”

Under a RTW law, workers at a union shop can enjoy union-won wages and benefits without joining the union or paying the union a service fee to represent them. The idea is to weaken strong unions, destroy small unions and keep workers from organizing.

Kentucky’s Republican-majority legislature passed a RTW law in January, and GOP Gov. Matt Bevin eagerly signed it.

“‘Right to work is not about economic development,” Londrigan said. “It’s not about individual freedom. It’s about dividing workers.”

Londrigan pointed out that “unions operate, and are founded on, the democratic principle of majority rule and they are one of the last truly democratic institutions in our society.”

In a union, he explained, “all members have an equal voice in voting on union contracts, expenditures and leadership. RTW is another incarnation of tyranny of the minority.”

RTW laws undermine unions by prohibiting union security agreements under which all bargaining unit members belong to the union or pay a service fee. Union and management must ratify such agreements, union members by a majority vote, Londrigan said.

Meanwhile, in the 1940s, the RTW drive got a big boost from Vance Muse, a Texas tycoon and white supremacist who detested “the doctrine of human equality represented by unions,” wrote Roger Bybee in The Progressive. A Klan fan, Muse  was “the Karl Rove-meets-David Duke brains behind the whole right to work movement,” wrote Mark Ames in Pando Quarterly online.

The Texas Legislature passed a right to work law in 1947 but changed the measure to its current form in 1993.

Muse, who also was rabidly anti-Semitic, saw “right to work”as a twofer: RTW would help smash unions and help maintain segregation and white supremacy in Texas and elsewhere in the Jim Crow South.

In 1936, Muse started the reactionary, racist Christian American Association in opposition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Muse allied the group with the KKK. FDR was running for re-election and Muse bitterly opposed him.

The year before, a Democratic Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act. Also known as the Wagner Act, the legislation gave workers legal protection to organize and bargain collectively.

“The appallingly racist views of Muse and his Christian American Association coincided with the mentality of corporate managers dedicated to holding down wages and maintaining the tight control over workers dating back to the days of slavery,” Bybee wrote. “The CEOs of the 1930s recognized that Muse’s segregationist ‘right to work’ concept would break up unified worker efforts to claim the rights granted under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also recognized the racist origins of right to work.

“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work,'” he warned in 1961. “It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone….Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”

Also in 1961, Dr. King told the AFL-CIO Convention, “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs—decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor.

“That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.”

RTW laws are “lies by lying liars,” Londrigan said. “They are a focused attack directly on unions.”

Kentucky Politicians Declare War against Kentucky’s Working Families

 A statement by Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan

Bill Londrigan, Kentucky State AFL-CIO president

The so called right to work and prevailing wage repeal bills passed(out of committee) today will deny economic opportunities for Kentucky’s working families.

Kentucky’s working families are suffering. They are facing employment, health care access, and education challenges. The Kentucky GOP not only ignored their plight, they made them worse with these anti-worker bills. 

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and House Republican Leadership made hurting working Kentuckians their number one priority. They did not advance bills to increase education funding, raise wages, or fund vital services in our community. Instead they chose to give multi-national corporations more power to outsource jobs, cut wages, and reduce benefits at the expense of our workers, small businesses, and the local economy. This is shameful. 

The Kentucky labor movement will continue to fight for the rights of Kentucky’s working families, like we have been doing for more than 100 years. We will demand government transparency and accountability. And we will continue to fight for better wages, reasonable hours and safer working conditions. We will take this opportunity to grow the labor movement and organize like hell!

“Politicians didn’t create the labor movement and politicians aren’t going to destroy the labor movement,” said Bill Londrigan, president, Kentucky State AFL-CIO.


The Center for Media and Democracy also just tweeted out a side-by-side comparison of Kentucky’s new Right to Work legislation with the Koch Brothers/ ALEC model legislation. 

Labor Radio Host, Kentucky Labor Leaders Say ‘Thanks, Mitch!’

By BERRY CRAIG
AFT Local 1360

Charles Showalter

Charles Showalter

The host of a nationally-syndicated labor radio talk show wants union members to “thank” Sen. Mitch McConnell for his “help” with the Friedrichs case.

“He refuses to even consider a Supreme Court nominee from President Obama,” said Charles Showalter, whose Pittsburgh-based “The Union Edge: Labor’s Talk Radio” program is broadcast from coast to coast. “The high court, by a 4-4 tie, upheld a lower court decision favoring unions.”

In Rebecca Friedrichs, et al., vs. California Teachers Association, et al., the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had rejected a teacher’s claim that having to contribute a  “fair share fee” to the CTA to help pay for collective bargaining abridged her right to free speech.

Showalter, a member of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, got the idea to “thank” the unabashedly anti-union McConnell from Jeff Wiggins, a Kentucky labor leader.

Showalter announced the capitol switchboard number – 1-202-224-3121 — on a recent program. He invited listeners to phone in their “gratitude” to the senate majority leader.

“Thanks, Mitch, you finally did something for labor,” said a grinning Wiggins, president of United Steelworkers Local 9447 and president of the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council.

Wiggins, who lives in Reidland, also serves on the Kentucky State AFL-CIO Executive Board. He conceded that an Obama appointee to replace the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia likely would have voted to sustain the appeals court judgment.

“Still, we can never know for sure how another justice would have voted,” he said. “But thanks to Mitch, it was a tie and we won.”

At the executive board’s recent meeting, Wiggins found plenty of support for showing “appreciation” to Kentucky’s senior senator.

“I’d also like to thank Mitch for handing us a victory in Friedrichs,” said Jim Key, vice president of USW Local 550 in Paducah. Key figured that by opting to stall any Obama nominee “Mitch didn’t dissect this issue enough to make it beneficial to his agenda.”

McConnell, who favors a national “right-to-work” law, is one of the most anti-labor lawmakers in Washington. According to the AFL-CIO’s Legislative Scorecard, he has voted the union position on legislation just 12 percent of the time since he came to the senate in 1975.

“Thank you, Mitch McConnell, we appreciate it very much,” said Chris Ormes of Bardstown-based USW Local 1241. “Your gridlock finally paid off for us.”

“Thank you, Mitch, for blocking President Obama and enabling us to maintain our union rights,” said Bo Johnson of Louisville, an organizer with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District 62.

Also expressing “gratitude” to the senator were state AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan of Frankfort, Recording Secretary Edna Ford of Louisville and board members Bob Blair of Louisville, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227; and Anna Church, financial secretary-treasurer of the Owensboro Central Labor Council.

Unions Push Right To Work Off The Table In Kentucky

rtw logoBy BERRY CRAIG
AFT Local 1360
 

Think voting really doesn’t matter? Talk to a pair of Kentucky labor leaders.

Because union-endorsed candidates won three of four special House elections this month, “right to work” is dead for now in the General Assembly, said Bluegrass State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan and Bill Finn, Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council director.

State Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, announced Friday that the “Kentucky Right to Work Act,” Senate Bill-3, “is off the table this session,” Finn added. “The sole reason was the Democrats holding on to a majority in the state House, which the Democrats now control 53-47.”

Stivers also pulled Senate Bill-6, so-called tort reform. “It is rare for the proponents of such bills to kill their own bills and it is even rarer for the president of the Senate to credit their deaths to the one factor that we all know has been holding back the onslaught of anti-worker legislation: Democrat-control of the Kentucky House,” Londrigan said.

Unions were a big reason Democrats still have the legislature’s lower chamber, according to House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

“I don’t think you can overstate just how important organized labor was in the special elections,” he said. “They gave us a strong foundation to work from, and they were crucial for our ground game.”

RTW was very much alive last fall. Tea party Republican Matt Bevin was elected governor on a RTW platform, leaving the Democratic-majority House of Representatives as the only barrier between the Bluegrass State and RTW. The state Senate has a 27-11 pro-RTW Republican majority.

The Democrats’ 54-46 House margin shrunk by four when a pair of Democratic lawmakers switched to the Republicans and two more took posts elsewhere in state government.

The GOP hoped to run the table in the four special elections, thereby making the House 50-50. (Two Republicans had to leave after winning constitutional offices in November.)

A GOP sweep—or even wins in three of the races—would have given the Republicans significant momentum going into this fall’s elections.

Now Old Mo seems to be with the Democrats. 

Stivers filed SB-3 on Jan. 6. “SB-3 was sent to the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee on January 7 where it lay pending the outcome of the House special elections on March 8,” Finn explained.

He added, “there could not be a clearer picture for our members…that their vote matters than President Stivers’ admission that a Republican majority in the House would have passed SB-3.”

Click here to see Stivers’ surrender on SB-3.

“President Stivers stated clearly that ‘elections have consequences’ and the consequences of the failure of the Republicans to win all four special elections and tie for control of the Kentucky House is the death of RTW and tort reform–as well as the previous death of prevailing wage repeal in the House Labor and Industry Committee–and so many other terrible pieces of legislation the Republicans had ready if they won those four critical seats,” Londrigan said.

Londrigan added that the special elections again prove that all elections matter. “In this case, the consequences were sufficiently positive to maintain control of the Kentucky House.”

But he cautioned against “resting on our laurels. We are heading right back into a full blown effort by our opponents to ‘flip the house’ – a mantra the Republicans have been using for about the past six years.

“We have prevented them from doing so this time, and only by an enormous and united effort will we be able to do so this November. The consequences of failure can be understood by simply looking at our neighboring states of Indiana and West Virginia.” Both states became RTW states, West Virginia most recently.

“The wolf is at the door again,” Londrigan warned. “The question is will we in the Kentucky trade union movement have the strength and courage to keep the wolf at bay and prevent Bevin and company from turning back the clock even further on Kentucky’s hard-working men and women.”

Londrigan thanked “all of those who worked so diligently and effectively in the four special elections. Our opponents thought they had all four of them won. Our labor program and grassroots and workplace efforts won these elections and the hard work and dedication of so many union members, representatives, released staff and national staff gave the Kentucky labor movement a great win and a chance to win again in November.”

Finn is also grateful to union members—especially those who pack building trades cards—for their work in the special elections. “This is more proof that organized labor’s effort can change the directions of Kentucky.”

Kentucky is the South’s only non-RTW state. The Kentucky House is the only chamber in a Southern legislature with a Democratic majority.

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