Opinion: ‘Right-to-work’ designed to keep black workers poor



“We must guard against being fooled by false slogans such as ‘right to work.’ ”

– Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

In his commentary “Unions ignore long history of excluding minorities from jobs” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 14), Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) highlighted past discriminatory practices in Organized Labor’s history as reason for implementing our state’s currently pending “right-to-work” law, along with other anti-worker measures such as ending prevailing wage and minimum wage requirements.


To claim that labor unions continue to exclude minorities and are detrimental to working people is ridiculous and erroneous in the face of the facts. The truth is, enacting “right-to-work” and other anti-worker laws would only hurt the minority communities Rep. Dogan seeks to protect by lowering wages, reducing benefits and limiting career opportunities.

Rep. Dogan claims that “right-to-work” is the key to helping black workers and stimulating the economy. This is contradictory to the racist history of such laws, which were originally conceived by a Texas lobbyist named Vance Muse. He hated unions, claiming “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with African apes … whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”


From the beginning, “right-to-work” was designed to weaken unions and divide workers with a goal of keeping black workers poor and weakening their fight for equality and justice.

Today, more black workers than ever are represented by a union. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s August 2017 report, roughly 10.6 million of the 16.3 million workers covered by a union contract are women and/or people of color, and 14.5 percent of black workers age 18 to 64 are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, compared with 12.5 percent of white workers and 10.1 percent of Hispanic workers.


Even with this progress, we know there is much more that has to be done. This is why you will find the Coalition for Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) standing up for jobs and social justice and fighting for all workers in the union halls and in the community.

Workers formed unions to demand a fair share and make sure they had a voice. The world’s wealthiest individuals total only 8.6 percent of the global population but own 85.6 percent of global wealth. Without unions, we will continue to see global wealth rise for a precious few CEOs and special interests, while workers’ wages drop. This is what happens when workers are denied a voice.

St. Louis’ black community knows this all too well. That’s why an overwhelming majority of us voted against “right-to-work” back in 1978, and that’s why we’re working to make sure it fails again 2018.

The CBTU joins me in calling on Rep. Dogan to do more than attack unions and hurt our middle class. Denying workers a voice on the job is not the way to stimulate the economy, but putting money in the average working person’s pocket allows them to spend their money locally and revitalize businesses.


I’ll close with the words of Rev. King, who understood the importance of unions, not only to the black community, but to our society as a whole:

“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being 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. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”

(Lew Moye is president emeritus of the St. Louis Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and a retired member of United Auto Workers Local 110.)


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