Labor's Last Stand

By David Hoffman

Regular readers of Pravda.Ru will undoubtedly recall that during the past two years I have written several articles condemning the United States Supreme Court's egregious Citizens United decision, and underscoring the destructive impact this decision will have on America-an impact that, as this article illustrates, is already being felt.

For those unfamiliar with Citizens United, on January 21, 2010, five of the most amoral, politicized and ethically corrupt "justices" in the history of the Supreme Court-Alito, Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Kennedy-ignored over one hundred years of legal precedent by decreeing that corporations have the same right to "freedom of speech" as flesh-and-blood human beings.  In other words, corporations can now give unlimited financial support to political causes, candidates, and/or campaigns that promote their interests, or more correctly interest, because they have only one:  profit.

Supporters of this decision swiftly boasted that Citizens United not only expanded the free speech provisions of the Bill of Rights, it also "balanced the scales" by extending identical free speech rights to labor unions.

But both of these boasts are unmitigated lies.

The reality is that any expansion of the free speech rights of corporations diminishes the free speech rights of individuals.  Although speech is most effective when read, heard and/or seen by a significant portion of the population, nothing in the United States Constitution requires the government to provide venues to persons wishing to exercise this right.  This, in turn, either forces people into silence or requires them to disseminate their messages through the corporate-controlled media.  But, unlike the government, these media are not obligated to honor the Bill of Rights, and therefore can censor or dilute messages at will.

Speakers and writers wishing to avoid such censorship or dilution can often only do so by buying expensive airtime or print space.  Thanks to the unbridled corporate contributions allowed by Citizens United, the 2012 elections were the "most expensive on record," with campaign spending, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, nearing six billion dollars.  And all of this spending occurred in a nation where millions are unemployed or underemployed, where the middle-class is vanishing into the ranks of the poor, and where corporations are making record profits. 

Left unchecked, corporate expenditures in future elections will only increase, displacing or overwhelming the messages of labor unions and other lesser-funded advocacy groups.  In addition, political candidates who do not promote corporate interests will increasingly find themselves waging "David vs. Goliath" political battles, except that Goliath will possess all the slings and arrows.

Furthermore, any illusions that the Citizens United decision was intended to be "balanced" have been rapidly dispelled by both the Supreme Court and the increasing number of states (the most recent being Michigan) that have passed, or are expressing their intention to pass, anti-labor "right-to-work" legislation. 

"Right-to-work" laws require labor unions to represent employees in union shops even when they refuse to pay union dues.  It is not difficult to see how depleting the financial resources of labor unions through such laws will severely diminish their ability to effectively disseminate political messages through the corporate-controlled media. 

Initially it appeared that Citizens United might have provided the legal ammunition to abolish existing "right-to-work" laws and prohibit the passage of new ones.  Legal precedent once dictated that the government could not enact legislation that acts as a "prior restraint" or has a "chilling effect" on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech.  This has historically been interpreted to mean the federal and state governments cannot, through the passage of laws, promote or favor one political message over another.  Impeding the ability of labor unions to raise and spend money on political causes and/or campaigns when such restrictions are absent when it comes to corporate spending clearly exhibits such favoritism.

Unfortunately, we are talking about a United States "justice" system that habitually favors property rights over human rights and the interests of the rich and powerful over the poor and oppressed, as well as a Supreme Court whose "conservative" majority incessantly disregards legal precedent to promote its own political agendas.  So it was not surprising when this court, in decisions subsequent to Citizens United, actually made it even more difficult for labor unions to raise and spend money on political causes and campaigns.  As Labor Law professor Susan Carle explained, these decisions are "an interesting contrast to [the court's] other opinions in the line of Citizens United [that] is making it much easier for corporations to spend money for political purposes without much accountability to their shareholders at all.  It's a very interesting un-leveling of the playing field quite deliberately."

So what do workers have in America?  Wal-Mart gloating over the fact that union organized "Black Friday" protests designed to draw attention to its labor practices were largely unsuccessful, a plethora of jobs that fail to pay a living wage or provide benefits, and a proliferation of "at-will" employees who can legally lose their jobs "for any reason, good or bad, or for no reason at all."

The corporate corruption and usurpation of the political process sanctioned by Citizens United has caused "right-to-work" laws to spread like a cancer throughout the United States, even when the reprobates who advocate these laws so conspicuously lie about their motives for doing so.

One such lie alleges that "right-to-work" laws make a state more economically attractive to businesses.  But, if the path America is now on remains unchecked, soon every state in the union will have "right-to-work" laws.  Since this will mean there is no economic advantage to operating in a "right-to-work" state, greedy corporations will once again migrate to states that permit the greatest exploitation and abuses of their workers, igniting a new "competition" that will diminish the rights of labor even further.

Another lie, currently being promulgated in Michigan, is that "right-to-work" laws are "pro-worker."  But American history has demonstrated, time and again, that most businesses are repelled by laws that favor workers like vampires are repelled by crucifixes.  If concern about anything but profit truly influenced business decisions, America would not be seeing the exodus of its companies to countries where environmental laws are lax, where child labor thrives, where wages are low, where governments are corrupt, and where laws protecting workers are nonexistent.

The unvarnished truth is the only goal behind "right-to-work" laws is to destroy the free speech rights of labor unions, which, in essence, destroys the free speech rights of anyone financially incapable of accessing the corporate-controlled media.  Wal-Mart's vice-president of communications is already pontificating about how the labor unions behind the "Black Friday" protests do not speak for Wal-Mart's "more than 1.3 million workers."  (South Bend Tribune, 11/24/12).  The problem is that nobody speaks for these workers.  And, given the corrupting influence of Citizens United, nobody ever will.

Make no mistake about it:  Citizens United and "right-to-work" laws are destined to sink America even deeper into the cesspool of plutocracy where the only voice effectively resounding in the political arena is the voice of corporate interests.  Since the venal Republican Party will be the primary beneficiary of this plutocracy, it is not surprising that Republican politicians are the most ardent proponents of "right-to-work" laws. 

Thus it is not only the future of labor unions, but also the future of democracy that is at stake.  Yet even though numerous pundits have emphasized how labor unions played an influential role in the reelection of Barack Obama, it is doubtful, given his conduct during his first term, that he will get this message.

As I stated in my recent Pravda.Ru article To Vote or To Waste Vote, even though I once optimistically supported Obama, today I consider him to be "one of the biggest frauds and criminals in the history of the United States."  Although he reached out to progressive interests in order to get elected in 2008, he did almost nothing to promote those interests, and, in fact, often acted in direct opposition to them. 

According to some political analysts, I am not alone in this assessment.  As the 2012 election neared, even many African-American and Hispanic voters were disillusioned with Obama.  But what eventually drove them to the polls were the efforts of many Republican legislators and governors to create laws covertly designed to disenfranchise minority voters, which made Obama and the Democratic Party the lesser of two evils.

Yet even as some Republicans are arguing that racial inclusiveness is crucial to the Party's future success, far too many others have decided that if they cannot diminish the right to vote, they can at least control the message being sent to the voters.  So if Obama does nothing but pay lip service to progressive interests during his second term, it will most likely be the last stand for labor and the Bill of Rights as America inexorably continues down its pathway of becoming a third-world economy where the government is controlled by the rich; the middle class is extinct; the working poor suffer ruthless exploitation and live in perpetual fear of losing their jobs; and the impoverished have absolutely no opportunities to better their lives.

Therefore at least one (and preferably all three) of the following must be accomplished before it is too late:  A federal statute must be enacted that nullifies "right-to-work" laws in every state where they now exist and bans the passage of new ones; a federal law or constitutional amendment must invalidate the egregious Citizens United decision, or, at the very least, minimize the political corruption it engenders; and the draconian doctrine of "at-will" employment must be abolished so workers can speak out without fear of retaliation about the abuses they witness or suffer.

A true democracy, and a just society, should demand nothing less.

David R. Hoffman

Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru

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Author`s name David R. Hoffman