Winter 2016

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14 CINEMONTAGE / Q1 2016 by Rob Callahan N early 17 years ago, a precocious teenage programmer wrote software that simplified the anonymous peer- to-peer sharing of audio files. Almost immediately, Napster rocked the record labels. It spread virulently amongst young users, propelled by a pair of powerful forces: folks' passion for music and their hunger for free stuff. Modems became magical jukeboxes, allowing kids with minimal technical skills to obtain almost any song ever recorded, gratis. A flurry of lawsuits soon followed, and the Recording Industry Association of America succeeded in having Napster shut down only two years later. By then, though, the rampant swapping of mp3 files had already effected irreversible change in the marketplace, normalizing piracy for many listeners. Recording industry revenues plummeted from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $6.3 billion in 2009. Piracy's disruption of the recording industry affords a simple lesson: When people can freely and easily obtain a thing for which they have historically had to pay, they do so in large numbers, and established institutions supplying such a thing suffer a devastating blow. Napster may be a familiar name to many; comparatively few, however, will have heard the name of Vance Muse, a reactionary Texas politico active in the mid-20th century. Muse, too, wanted to enable a kind of piracy — permitting people to enjoy for free what they would ordinarily pay for. And Muse's piracy held and holds similarly disruptive potential for established institutions. But, if Napster's damage to the music industry was incidental rather than intentional — kids just wanted to listen to free tunes — the damage Muse sought to inflict was deliberate and calculated. Muse's innovation was not technological but political: the so- called "Right to Work" movement, born of animus toward trade unionism and racial integration. Where they have been enacted, "Right to Work" laws discourage union membership. Their object was, and remains, the evisceration of organized labor. Back in the 1940s, Muse's Christian American Association, a Houston-based anti-labor group, coined the slogan "Right to Work." This misleading term describes laws and policies that emerged in reaction to workers winning the right to elect union representation under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. Broadly speaking, so- called "Right to Work" laws mandate "open shops," workplaces without valid union security clauses. (Open shops existed prior to Muse's lobbying, just as piracy predates Napster. Muse is credited with packaging the push for open-shop requirements under the banner of "Right to Work.") A union security clause is a provision in collective bargaining agreements requiring that individual workers in union-represented positions either join the union or otherwise contribute to the cost of their representation. The principle is simple: Each individual who enjoys the higher wages, better benefits and other advantages won and maintained by union representation has a responsibility to share the expenses of bargaining. If a group of workers can vote to unionize, they can democratically choose to tax themselves to support their union. The principle behind "Right to Work" is equally simple: Outlawing union security incentivizes employees to opt out of paying dues by ensuring that they might reap the benefits of representation without paying the bill for it. If enough individuals, acting out of narrow self-interest, choose to stop contributing to the cost of maintaining their unions, the organizations atrophy and die. By requiring representation without taxation, "Right to Work" aims to make organized labor untenable. Over President Harry Truman's veto, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which contained a host of measures undercutting worker rights. Taft-Hartley allowed individual states to outlaw union security clauses. Muse's group and others lobbied for such legislation. Although today's boosters of "Right to Work" respectably couch their arguments in terms of liberty and freedom of (dis-) association, the cause's roots are mired in segregationist politics. Vance Muse, a virulent racist, complained that, in union shops, "White women and white men will be forced into organizations with [African- American workers], whom they will have to call 'brother' or lose their jobs." Bigots saw in the open shop a corrective to compulsory inter-racial solidarity, undermining worker power in the process. In the early years of the movement, state "Right to Work" laws took hold chiefly in the segregated South and remained a mostly Southern phenomenon through the 20th century. Not coincidentally, the South had fewer and generally weaker unions than elsewhere. Recent years, though, have seen a dramatic resurgence in the forces pushing for "Right to Work." The revival has been especially jarring in the Midwest, traditionally a relative stronghold of labor. In only the past four years, three Midwestern states — Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin — adopted "Right to Work" laws. Elsewhere, the threat was averted only narrowly, and perhaps temporarily. This recent resurgence continues to build momentum. West Virginia is on track to become the 26th state to outlaw union security. (It may have already happened by the time this column sees print.) Even more alarmingly, the Supreme Court is poised to deal the labor movement a GET TING ORGANIZED A Discordant Note Sounds for Organized Labor CONTINUED ON PAGE 20 By requiring representation without taxation, "Right to Work" aims to make organized labor untenable.

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