Rep. Steve King and the Racist Origins of 'Right to Work'

Steve Smith

Steve Smith Director of Communications, California Labor Federation

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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Reposted from Labor's Edge.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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