Right to Work

California Labor Federation: Rep. Steve King and the Racist Origins of 'Right to Work'

Rep. Steve King
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This post originally appeared at Labor's Edge and is a guest post from the California Labor Fed.

Controversial Iowa Rep. Steve King is once again in hot water for espousing racist, white nationalist views, tweeting that "we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies." He doubled down on his bigoted words over the weekend, telling CNN that "I meant exactly what I said."

King’s latest racist remarks drew praise from Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who tweeted "GOD BLESS STEVE KING," and sharp rebukes from just about everyone else, including fellow Republicans in Congress and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, just to name a few.

While this story is making headlines, there’s been scant attention paid to how King’s policy agenda reflects his white nationalist views. King is the author of the federal bill that would impose a right to work scheme nationally, which would be devastating to our country’s economy and would hit workers, especially people of color, square in the pocketbook.

Backed by an array of wealthy corporations and secret deep-pocketed donors, these laws have proliferated in Republican-controlled states across the country, leading to lower wages and fewer benefits for not just union workers, but all workers in those states. People of color—particularly women of color—are hit hardest by these laws, which fuel income inequality and put their American Dream further out of reach. According to the Economic Policy Institute, wages in right to work states are 3.2% lower than in non-right to work states. Health insurance and retirement security are scarcer.

So why would any policy maker push legislation that lowers wages? One obvious reason is that big corporations love these laws, because they undercut the ability of working people to stand together in a union to demand fair wages and decent benefits for a hard day’s work. But if you look at the history of these laws, there’s an even more sinister reason behind them: racism.

Many attacks on labor unions have roots in white supremacism.

University of Arkansas Associate Prof. Michael Pierce explained:

Right to work laws originated as means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations and to beat back what was seen as a Jewish cabal to foment a revolution. No one was more important in placing right to work on the conservatives’ political agenda than Vance Muse of the Christian American Association, a larger-than-life Texan whose own grandson described him as 'a white supremacist, an anti-Semite and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.'

Which brings us back to King. It’s no coincidence that the most racist member of Congress is also the staunchest supporter of a national right to work scheme. In the view of King and many other extremists, labor unions must be destroyed, because immigrants and people of color have a better shot at the American Dream when they are able to organize and join unions. Lower wages for everyone, including blue-collar whites, is just collateral damage in King’s view. Supporters of these laws will never admit to the racist origins of right to work. And they certainly won’t cop to the widening inequality gap these laws create. But make no mistake; racism is central to the hidden agenda.

Supporting national right to work is tantamount to supporting King’s racist world view. That’s a message every member of Congress needs to hear.

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