We’re really good at forgetting our history in this country. Labor Day is hardly more than 100 years old, and yet the Republican party freely attacks unions and workplace regulations in its platform. It’s the line they’ve been pushing for years – unions drive up wages “artificially,” protect bad workers, and make America uncompetitive. Regulations are too burdensome, they hurt business, they aren’t “cost-effective” because they place higher value on workers’ health than on profit margins. Wall Street’s shell games destroyed our economy, but somehow unions and regulations are the real culprits.
We demand an end to the Project Labor Agreements; and we call for repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act, which costs the taxpayers billions of dollars annually in artificially high wages on government projects. We support the right of States to enact Right-to-Work laws and encourage them to do so to promote greater economic liberty. Ultimately, we support the enactment of a National Right-to-Work law to promote worker freedom and to promote greater economic liberty.
“Right-to-Work” sounds lovely – until you look at the history of the labor movement in this country. For a very long time (until 1937), our Supreme Court believed that workers have a “right to contract” for their labor, much like the current “right to work.” “Right to Work” means that you can be hired without joining the union or receiving the benefits of its contracts. “Right to contract” made any laws or regulations or union activities that affected wages, hours, or working conditions illegal. The basic idea is the same – if you are willing to work for less pay, for longer hours, in more dangerous conditions, that’s between you and your boss, not the government, not the union. But both “right to work” and “right to contract” are based on a lie – the idea that a worker can hold out for the right wage, hours, and conditions. Anyone who’s ever been unemployed for more than three months knows exactly how a bad labor market affects your standards. So wages were always kept low, especially for unskilled workers ; there was always someone willing to work for less. That is exactly what the GOP platform is trying to take us back to: a labor market where workers have no protections, from law or from unions.
The only thing worse than unions is regulation. The GOP platform specifically calls for reining in “the EPA’s and OSHA’s overreaching regulation agenda.”
The bottom line on regulations is jobs. In listening to America, one constant we have heard is the job-crippling effect of even well-intentioned regulation. That makes it all the more important for federal agencies to be judicious about the impositions they create on businesses, especially small businesses. We call for a moratorium on the development of any new major and costly regulations until a Republican Administration reviews existing rules to ensure that they have a sound basis in science and will be cost-effective.
A reminder: these “job-crippling” regulations often are designed to protect people from being crippled on the job. They exist to ensure that those who work with hazardous materials are outfitted properly so that they don’t become ill. They exist to ensure that waste from manufacturing doesn’t poison our drinking water. They exist so that we never have another Triangle Shirtwaist fire in this country. Yes, all of these things cut into profit margins – which is exactly why we use the government to regulate them.
People died for the right to unionize. People died for want of workplace regulations. Grover Cleveland created Labor Day in an attempt to win back votes from the working class after federal troops had killed 13 workers and injured 57 in breaking up the Pullman Railroad strike. Siding with the workers during that strike, a Methodist minister from Montana, J. W. Jennings, railed against the government’s strikebreaking: the government, he said, should protect “the rights of the people against aggression and oppressive corporations;” but instead, our leaders were “the pliant tools of the codfish monied aristocracy who seek to dominate this country.” It’s still true, over a hundred years later. Corporations do not need relief from necessary regulations, and people in the working class do not need the “right” to work for less money. And a vote for the GOP is now, more than ever, a vote for “the pliant tools of the codfish monied aristocracy.”