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Another victory for freedom: Right to Work in Oklahoma

By Bruce Walker
web posted October 1, 2001

Although the attention of America and the world is rightly focused on Central Asia and the war of good people against evil people, a major victory for freedom and for conservative values took place right here in the heartland of America: Oklahomans voted to amend the Constitution of Oklahoma by enacting Right to Work. The last state to enact take this step was Idaho in 1974. The last time Oklahoma addressed the issue was ten years earlier, in 1964, when the people defeated the initiative.

What has happened since then? Union membership, of course, has declined steadily as a percentage of the workforce. The inflexibility of union contracts makes it difficult to react and adjust in the rapid pace of modern commerce. Union bosses and labor lawyers are well-paid middlemen in the putative struggle between greedy capitalists and sweating workers. Fewer and fewer workers, most of who are now involved in information technology, feel "helpless" these days.

Every state that chooses to allow workers and employers to keep more of their own money by ending this de facto tax means that other states will feel more pressure to follow suit. Missouri, Colorado, and New Mexico all border Oklahoma. Today Oklahoma has an important new tool to gain and keep businesses that these other states do not.

Governor Frank Keating
Keating

Economics has much to do with the success of Right to Work in Oklahoma, but politics has been the decisive factor. When popular Governor Frank Keating gave his State of the State Address soon after taking office in 1995, when he mentioned Right to Work, boorish labor hacks actually booed him. The governor was re-elected by a huge landslide in 1998, but those Democrats who tied their fortunes to Big Labor have seen their once invincible power in Oklahoma politics dwindle to effective minority status.

Ironically, labor unions in states like Oklahoma might have survived if they had chosen the right side in the political and cultural wars of the last three decades. Voluntary labor unions are not bad, and they have actually done the world much good. Solidarity, for example, toppled a corrupt Communist regime in Poland, which dealt the Soviet Empire a staggering blow.

Unions in America long had a tradition of flag-waving patriotism and strong support of traditional cultural values. When spoiled brat "Peaceniks" condemned "Amerika" and said "give peace a chance" while Marxist thugs were murdering women and children in Indochina, the hard hats of construction unions took them head on; it was, after all, their dads and uncles and brothers who died at Tarawa and Bastogne so these cowardly creeps could exercise self-expression without the threat of Lubyanka.

And when liberals sought the icon of all wrong with America (i.e. all right with America) to mock, they chose Archie Bunker. Semi-literate, bigoted, and stereotyped so ham-handedly that only liberals could actually believe such men existed in large numbers, Archie as also grudging acceptance that the working men of America were patriots.

Yes, the leaders of big industrial unions were tough, brass knuckles fighters. There has always been a fine line between organized labor and organized crime. But George Meany's favorite politician was Scoop Jackson, the most tireless anti-Communist in America. Big Labor did not follow conservatives in fighting Communism; in many cases, they led more timid intellectual conservatives through the hard knocks of real political war.

Monsters like Stalin, Hitler, and Mao had very little use for independent unions. And just as the proliferation of weird religions and kooky theories in American society is proof of our freedom, so the muscular, brawling figure of Big Labor was proof that a force willing to stand nose to nose with government meant that government had not gotten too powerful.

What happened? How did Big Labor lose the hearts and minds of millions of Americans? Labor leaders prostituted themselves to that power lust conveniently called "liberal" , "progressive", or whatever other term is most misleading. Recall when Republicans gained control of Congress in November 1994? Who sent storm troopers into the office of the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, to intimidate and disrupt the operations of government? Big Labor.

Who closed their eyes and ears to Republican offers to work together on issues of real concern to working families during the first two years of the new Republican Congress? Big Labor. Instead of working to cut tax rates, improve education, or make America strong, the union bosses spent hundreds of millions of union dues to oust Republicans from federal and state offices. Well, they lost.

Even more insidiously, Bill Clinton and his operatives funneled funds from the Democrat National Committee to "fix" union elections, for which the AFL-CIO bosses obligingly reciprocated. Clinton opposed everything Archie Bunker supported - America, traditional family values, and working for one's keep - and Clinton dragged Democrats and labor leaders with him into a Femi-Nazi, America-bashing, Global Warming, Night Basketball bunch of loonies.

Whatever moral high ground labor unions ever had, they lost by selling themselves to Clinton, Rodham, Gore, et al. So what is next? Twenty-two states now have Right to Work, and that includes every state in the Old Confederacy; five of the eight conservative Rocky Mountain states; every Great Plains from North Dakota to Oklahoma; and Iowa.

There is a familiar pattern to this picture: the famous "No Landslide?" county-by-county breakdown of popular vote in Election 2000. The states with Right to Work laws, with the single exception of Iowa which Gore carried by a paper thin margin, all went for President Bush. There are several states that went for President Bush easily, but which do not have Right to Work: Colorado, Montana, Kentucky, Indiana, and Alaska.

President Bush did not carry New Mexico, but he ran a very close race there, and if Colorado and Montana adopted Right to Work, then it would be a lonely island in the middle of America (which would make it tough to compete for jobs with Arizona, Texas, or Utah). If those five states adopted Right to Work, then a majority of states would have Right to Work laws, an incalculable psychological advantage.

Other states with traditionally strong organized labor - Missouri, Minnesota, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio - have now strong Republican parties and modestly conservative trends in voting. Victory in even one of these states would mean that the rotten edifice of forced unionism married to chic radicalism would collapse soon.

The hundreds of millions in "soft" expenditures for Democrats would evaporate too, along with the stranglehold that unions have held on many local governments. The long-term impact of the survival of the Democrat Party would be problematic.

There is, of course, another scenario. Unions could try hard to recapture the moral high ground. Unions, whose members send their children to public schools, could champion school vouchers (government jobs, not union jobs, are at issue in the public school debate). Unions could begin to vigorously attack "political correctness" which is as likely to mock and lecture union members as anyone else. Unions could even - gasp! - begin to support conservative Republicans, who agree on with union members on issues like tax cuts, public safety, and culture that exalts the shared values of Americans. In short, unions could again become useful to their members.

Probably, however, it is too little too late. Labor unions, like civil rights organizations, have become subsidiaries of the Democrat National Committee, reflexively supporting whatever McAuliffe and Clinton ask them to support. Too bad, but loving political power too much and compromising principles too easily always leads to the same dustbin.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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