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Right to Work’s Racist Roots

by Joye Barksdale  |  March 04, 2015

Wisconsin is the latest state where political extremists are pushing the right-to-work scam. By now we know that no matter how refined the arguments, the laws have one main goal: busting unions. But aside from the scam’s union-busting agenda, right-to-work also has a sordid racial past.

Back in the early 1940s, Vance Muse was an oil lobbyist and ardent segregationist with a history of supporting anti-worker causes. He opposed the 8-hour workday and child labor laws, as well as women’s rights. And he detested unions largely because, aside from believing them to be communist fronts, he was certain their growth would lead to mixing of the races.

Here’s a quote from Muse:

“From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”

Muse was the founder of the Christian American Association, an organization that pushed the right-to-work scam in Texas and other states. He was successful in getting a bill passed in Texas in 1947. Within two years, such laws were on the books in 14 Southern states, which were particularly susceptible to Muse’s race-baiting arguments.

But Muse wasn’t content with the state-by-state approach. At the time of his death in 1950, he was working on a right-to-work amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Because of right-to-work’s disturbing history, we should not only look at the stated intent and consequences of these laws, but also closely examine their backers – including ALEC and the Koch brothers. Do they know the backstory of the right-to-work scam, and if so, are they OK with it?

“The people supporting right-to-work should explain why they’re not racists,” says Alan Webber, a candidate for governor in New Mexico in 2014 and co-founder of the business magazine Fast Company. “I don’t believe they are, but we need to make them understand there’s a racist history to the whole right-to-work movement.”

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