Monday’s Mtg: Right-to-Work Laws – Who Benefits?

Passing Right to Work” (RTW) laws is one of the highest priorities of the Republican Party.  Since the GOP won control of a number of state governments in 2010, several major states have passed these laws, in some cases with little debate and outside of normal legislative procedures.  Opposition has been fierce.

Why are they doing this?  Is there a justification beyond the obvious one of trying to weaken the Democratic Party by destroying labor unions?  Liberals do not think so.  I’ve never met a liberal that believes there is any justification for RTW laws except to (1) weaken workers’ power and lower wages, and (2) damage the Democrats’ ability to compete in elections.

However, many conservatives sincerely believe that RTW laws create faster economic growth and development plus more jobs, even if they are lower-wage jobs.  They cite the  allegedly stronger economies of RTW states as proof, among other evidence and arguments.  I’m not a fan, but one purpose of Civilized Conversation is to learn to understand the substantive arguments of the other side.  Just telling the other side that its motives are mean and nasty may or may not contain a small or large grain of the truth.  But it’s guaranteed never to persuade anyone, including self-described but often poorly-informed “moderates” that don’t like when one side questions the other’s motives.  Moreover, everyone rationalizes what’s good for their side as what’s also good for the country.  The question for us Monday is, Who’s actually right on the merits of RTW laws?

I’ve got some great background articles this week.  Please read some of them so my short introduction will make sense.  I’ll briefly explain what RTW laws are, what they do, and who both sides claim they benefit (e.g., economic growth vs. big corporations at the expense of workers).  I’ll leave the speculation on motivations to the discussion, except to note here that I find it hard to fathom how conservatives can believe that RTW laws lead to such enormous economic benefits as to justify making their passage the top legislative priority of elected Republicans in state after state.  Perhaps wording our topic on Monday in an old, very wise language will better illustrate the dual-meaning I had in mind: Cui bono?


  1. What are RTW laws?  Which states have them?
  2. What is their economic and partisan political rationale?  Which of the two matter most?  Why are RTW laws such an important priority for state Republican elected officials?  Do they really claim that the benefits of these laws are that large?
  3. Who really benefits from these laws?  What effects do they actually have on economic growth, economic development, employment, and wages?
  4. Are RTW laws part of a broader, “southern economic model?”  Does that model work?  Why/not?  For whom?  Must we adopt the southern model in a globalized age?



What are Right to Work laws?

  • Very short definition of a right to work law.
  • A common  misunderstanding about non-RTW states:  Workers are NOT forced to join a union as a condition of employment.  But, they are required to pay a fee to the union so they cannot free ride on the benefits they derive from working in a unionized shop.  I recommend.

Pro-RTW arguments –

  • Via Bruce, a conservative defends RTW laws as inevitable and, all things considered, desirable.  This is a pretty good article and liberals need to be able to rebut these kinds of arguments.  Please read.
  • An iconoclastic liberal on what the conservative arguments for RTW laws should be.   [2/9 Update:  Link fixed.]  Includes a good explanation of what RTW laws are.

Anti-RTW arguments –

A more neutral cataloguing of RTW laws’ effects –

I am emailing the San Diego AFL-CIO and other unions about this one.  I’ll see you all there.


4 responses

  1. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    These laws are surely just union-busting measures.
    But why do the Republicans think they are necessary? They have already destroyed the unions, almost entirely

    1. But the unions still prop up the Democratic party; they are its ground troops. Without unions, the disparity in money betweent the two parties matters more. Weaker union-led ground game = money means more = GOP wins more, ceteris parabis.

  2. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    It’s hard to see, if unions are down to 7% of the work force, how they could prop up much of anything. That is the latest figure I’ve heard.
    But it would be great to find out I’m wrong.

  3. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    I just now got around to reading the article by Krauthammer.
    I must confess to a visceral dislike of this man. Just to look at him makes me feel sick.

    Nevertheless, he makes a point that may be valid: Global competition, more than lack of unions, may have led to the decline of the autoworkers etc.

    On the other hand, he overlooks the equally germane point that, while unions have to function within the context of the world economy, they can still try to protect the interests of their members within that context. And after all, who else will?

    And what is it exactly he has against public-sector unions? Perhaps his hero is Calvin Coolidge, who rode to fame after breaking the Boston police strike in 1919?

    Those who have overindulged in the works of Krauthammer need to consider an antidote.
    I would suggest, a strong dose of brandy or whiskey might do the trick.

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