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Right to Work Republicanism

Autry J. Pruitt


Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s history on illegal immigration has placed him in league with some of the Senate’s most notorious liberals. Rand Paul’s positions on foreign relations and domestic law enforcement prompted Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol to proclaim that the Kentucky senator, “has now decided he wants to be a liberal Democrat.”

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein says he’d  be happy with either Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush in the White House, while Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the king of Repeal and Replace Obamacare, signed up for the president’s signature program. (Okay, it is the law but still…)

The net net is that it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate between the Republican and Democratic parties and the people who want to be their party’s respective standard bearer next year. There are some exceptions but in many cases, bright policy differences have faded and are blending together; it’s like trying to tell the difference between bone and ivory paint samples.

This growing lack of distinction is especially important for the 2016 president contest, which will determine whether the nation continues on the course set by Barack Obama’s eight years in power or moves back toward increased free market capitalism. But there is one issue that can re-establish the bold difference between the two parties.

The issue is right to work, the policy by which people are not forced to join a union and pay dues as a condition of getting and keeping their job. It’s percolated through statehouses since World War II and over time, the list of right to work states has steadily grown to 25, with lawmakers in half a dozen more states currently debating the idea.

The underlying precepts of right to work go to the heart of the American ethos and compel voters to confront the question of whether one’s ability to get a job and prosper rests in that person’s skill, effort and ambition, or in fealty to organized labor.

Unions despise right to work because it cuts into their membership. More than 20% of working people were union members in 1983. Today, a scant 11.1% of working Americans belong to a union. That’s a gigantic decline over the past 30-odd years and it’s a big problem for Big Labor.

It’s also a problem for the Democratic Party because of the political money provided by labor unions.  Forget about the mega-salaries paid to union bosses. The salaries of these one-percenters are peanuts compared to the estimated $4.4 billion spent by unions on politics over the past decade.  That’s money taken by force from union men and women, with the overwhelming majority of it spent on behalf of Democrats and the issues they support.

If union voters were a monolithic voting block, that would be one thing. But an estimated 40% of union members voted Republican in the 2012 election. That’s four out of 10 people who were forced to hand over a chunk of their take home pay every month to support politicians and policies they oppose.

A national map of right to work states bears a close resemblance to the results of the 2012 presidential election, but with some critical differences. Of the 25 states with right to work laws, five voted for Barack Obama in 2012. Those states — Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada, Florida — hold a whopping 74 electoral votes. The candidate who champions right to work would clearly appeal to a lot of voters in these blue and purple states.

National polling data paints a conflicted picture of support for labor unions but that ought not dissuade a Republican from campaigning on right to work. The issue falls flat in states like Massachusetts and California but there’s no way in hell either state is voting Republican next year anyway. But Wisconsin? Florida? Virginia? Suddenly, the prospect of electoral success begins to materialize.

The key is harnessing right to work as an issue. The central argument is simple and easily understood — individual liberty versus compulsory allegiance to a collective; equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome. No issue better illustrates the stark differences between capitalism and socialism, and has the potential to define the trajectory of the nation after the 2016 elections.