"Right to work" mash-up: Presenting Upton Sinclair and The Buckinghams | WisCommunity

"Right to work" mash-up: Presenting Upton Sinclair and The Buckinghams

The famous muckracking novelist Upton Sinclair had it right when he said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

He was speaking in the 1930s, another time of American economic upheaval, but Sinclair's observation very well applies to today's Wisconsin Republican Party, a bunch of ideologues and opportunists for whom facts and public sentiment don't matter as much as their own fortunes.

A more contemporary take on right-to-work comes from The Buckinghams, a great 1960s rock band from the UK, who in one of their quasi-political songs insisted upon "Our Wrong To Be Right."

The Wisconsin GOP has been busy exerting its Wrong To Be Right-To-Work. By the time you read this, the state Assembly likely will have passed the so-called "right to work" bill that Scott Walker, who not long ago said he wouldn't sign it, plans to sign Monday.

There is, as always, method to the evident Republican madness. In Walker's case, his paradoxical political stances come entirely from his presidential ambitions. In the case of state GOP lawmakers at large, it's more about just hanging on to what they've got.

You've heard all the arguments about the flaws and underlying, anti-union intent of this legislation. Republicans in theory have heard those arguments, too, and in spades, given the hundreds of individuals, groups and even hundreds of business leaders who testified against the measure in the GOP's blitzkrieg rush to enact it.

If the Republicans could only act this fast to cure the state's looming $2.2 billion budget deficit without laying waste to public education and job creation (the Walker budget actually cuts jobs). First things first! they cry. Let's kill all the unions!

Of course, Republicans really haven't heard the vast array of opposing arguments, because their livelihoods depend on not hearing them. To keep the campaign cash pipeline flowing from powerful special interests, Republicans need to pass laws that suit those interests, like right to work.

Now, because hypocrisy is not a comforting self-trait, many GOP lawmakers likely have convinced themselves of the measure's virtues, but some others merely rationalize, seeing themselves as doing what they have to do -- at your cost and mine.

Summing up his party's official view, Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) said Thursday that private-sector workers would benefit from the proposal by getting to decide whether to pay part of their wages to unions. Choice! Freedom!

Here's where Knodl's flawed logic really leads us: If you are no longer "forced" (by a voting majority of your peers) to join in paying a small portion of your salary to the union that represents everyone, you'll come out ahead financially.

That's the same argument Walker used to justify Act 10, the GOP's frontal assault on public employee unions. Sure, we're wrecking collective bargaining and cutting your pay significantly, but look at the union dues you'll save! Which is not only bad math but completely misses the point. Nothing of value is obtainable for free.

And yet, Republicans insist, Unions will be stronger after we weaken them! Because competition! Workers happy! Unions happy! Well, actually, this law will just makes hypocritical Republican lawmakers and their big-business sponsors happy.

In reality, less union membership means less union revenue from fewer workers and thus less union power. And that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and independent research, leads right-to-work states to overall lower wage structures.

Thank god Republicans can rely on conservative think tanks and their creative math to come up with countervaling arguments. It helps with the rationalization and the governmentin' and stuff.

The dissembling, self-delusion and downright misrepresentation didn't come just from Republican lawmakers.

Scrambling for voices to support this nefarious law, against the desires of many small Wisconsin business owners, the GOP managed to recruit the first and perhaps only vocal proponent among state manufacturers, the CEO and president of Badger Meter Inc., a successful tech company in Milwaukee.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Richard A. Meeusen told the Assembly hearing panel Thursday that passing right to work "would lead to a dozen more jobs at his Milwaukee firm in the near term and potentially as many as 30 to 50 more later on without a cut in wages."

He failed to explain how weakening unions statewide could possibly lead to that scenario or truly be credited to it. After all, couldn't Badger Meter hire those new workers at the same wages right now, without "right to work"? Yes it could. That's Logic 101. But "could" and "want to" are different conditions.

Meeusen went on to tell the newspaper that "there's no question that we'll begin to increase the number of union jobs right here in Milwaukee, assuming the employees we hire want to join the union."

But that's a false proposition, since right-to-work likely ensures that some of Meesuen's employees will opt out of the union. Indeed, that's the only purpose of the law. And Republicans claim it will increase jobs without hurting pay. Then again, as Mr. Sinclair foresaw, their own pay depends on them not thinking otherwise.

Here's an idea: Only a few homes catch fire, yet all of us have to pay taxes to cover the cost of our local fire department. What if I and a bunch of other residents or businesses wanted to opt out of those taxes, because we're well-insured and, well, consider ourselves lucky?

Don't laugh. In too many communities, some childless taxpayers continue to insist they shouldn't have to help pay for public schools, either. It's the same exact argument.

What today's breed of Republican doesn't -- or won't -- understand is the "tragedy of the commons," the idea that communities can only function well by sharing the burden for common tasks, like fire protection, roads and schools, and that once this sharing begins to break down, it's bad for everyone. And now with "right to work," Wisconsin, like 24 other states, is going to find out just how bad. Hang onto your wallets, folks.


March 6, 2015 - 9:14am