In the wake of Walker’s Wednesday maneuver, National Review‘s Daniel Foster mourned the extent to which Americans still (or maybe more so now) recognize union rights as democratic rights, or as any kind of right at all:
To hear all the talk of the “rights” — even “civil rights”(!) — that have been stripped from public sector workers in this bill by the “far right wing” is to see Stockholm Syndrome on a massive scale…The fact is that no individual human being lost a single right in Wisconsin tonight.
The right that Scott Walker and company are desperate to deny is this: the right of a worker to sit across the table from her boss as an equal, with the security of solidarity and the leverage of collective action, and say “No.” It’s the right to say safety rules are too weak or healthcare is too expensive and to exercise voice with strength rather than to exit in hopes of finding a charitable boss somewhere else. And with it goes the right – also attacked by Walker – to act together to move your boss.
There are no workers that conservatives believe should exercise these rights -unless, maybe, they’re in a history book. Either the job you do is too important to be subject to your needs (like TSA screeners), or the business you work for is too small (like a store), or your company is too generous already (like Starbucks), or you’re not really a worker (like domestic workers), or your job requires too much independent thinking (like graduate teachers), or your job should be done by a teenager and you should go to college (like fast food), or – like public workers in Wisconsin – you don’t need an organized voice on the job because you get to vote on who runs the government.
Conservatives don’t want you to bargain collectively. They want you to take what your boss offers or be replaced by someone else who will. They want the kind of freedom celebrated by the bosses in The Grapes of Wrath: a boss’s freedom to get any work done under any conditions for any compensation they can find someone desperate enough to agree to; a worker’s freedom to agree to a boss’ terms or go hungry – or swell the ranks of debtor’s prison.
Folks are right to call attention to the rushed, maybe illegal way that Walker and company pushed through his rights-stripping bill Wednesday night (my basic approach to procedure is a) when there’s a chance to lay down procedural law, we should go for more democratic rules and trust we’ll be better off with them in the long term and b) in the meantime, we should press any legal opportunity available under existing rules – budget reconciliation, denying a quorum – to achieve just ends). But let’s keep focus on what it is that makes Walker’s bill, and the others like it (and the existing status quo for too many workers in America) undemocratic: it denies workers the democratic right to bring their vision for their workplace to the bargaining table, put it up against their boss’s, and struggle for what they sense is right for their families and for the fellow citizens they serve.
It can’t stand, and it won’t.