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    Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
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    Action Center
    Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
    Did you know...that the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, first printed in 1903, is the oldest peer-reviewed publication dedicated to Kentucky history?Subscribe to the Register (only $40 per year).
  • RTW Its Racist Roots
    Posted On: Jul 21, 2015

    Right to Work and Its Racist Roots by Joseph W. Brennan

    To start with the terminology “Right to Work” is a misnomer and has nothing to do with protecting the rights of the worker, on the contrary it is an anti-labor, anti-union movement aimed at limiting the potential of the workers and union representation to conduct effective collective bargaining procedures in the name of labor. But, is has always been so. As we will see RTW has a history of pretending to support workers’ rights when in reality its goals are quite the contrary.

    Let’s start from the beginning and the Christian American Association and its prominent member, Vance Muse. This movement was founded in Texas in 1936 by Mr. Muse, an oil lobbyist. Mr. Muse had some definite ideas as to what it meant to be both Christian and American and he was not hesitant to disperse his beliefs whenever and wherever he could. He definitely opposed unions, liberals, and African Americans which he saw as an ever growing representation of the Texan work force. He didn’t care for Catholics too much either. All were seen as threats to the stability of Christian Americans especially when it came to integrated work places and “socialistic” inroads of union activity. He is quoted as declaring, “From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black Africans, whom they will have to call “brother or lose their jobs”.

    During World War II, Muse promoted his ideology under the egis of anti-violence. Worker strikes and pickets would endanger productivity and the war effort. By 1945, his Fight for Free Enterprise was endorsed by legislation and the Texas Right to Work bill became law. These efforts were promulgated into the legislatures of other Southern States who agreed in its more militant anti-union posture. A conservative congress in 1947, approved and passed section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley law granting the right to states to pass laws that allowed workers to receive union benefits without joining the union.

    Finally, Texas oil man Fred Koch supported RTW legislation in Kansas. His fear of communism and organized labor lives on today through the investments of his sons Charles and David and their support of the Tea Party, conservative politicians, and a number of conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. Twenty-four states now have Right to Work laws, the last two were approved by States with Republican governors and both houses controlled by Republican legislatures. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) (now president of the Heritage Foundation), recently introduced a National Right to Work Act (S. 2173). 

    The relationship between Right to Work Laws, the return of Jim Crow, and the reduction of minority voting rights is evident. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against bring fooled by false slogans, such as “right to work”. 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”. 


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