By T.W. Bigler –
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Republicans in control of the Alabama Senate passed a new Right to Work Bill on Thursday. If it passes the House and is signed by the governor, it would allow voters to decide whether a Right to Work amendment will be added to the 1901 state constitution.
Even the sponsors of the bill admit Alabama is already a so-called right to work state.
The Senate passed the measure over the objection of organized labor.
Al Henley of the state AFL-CIO said in an e-mail interview it is a bad law, “a law that keeps the standard of living low for Alabama’s middle class.”
“Strong union density creates a strong economy and business and labor agree that we are both better off with a strong economy,” he said. “Senator Dial and the anti-middle class state senate should create ideas and enact laws to make the middle class stronger instead of trying to weaken it. Putting bad laws in the constitution is a horrible idea.”
Alabama’s Jim Crow-era constitution is already the longest current written constitution in the world, with around 900 amendments. SB41 and many other bills this legislative session are prime examples that show Republicans are willing to grow the size and burden of government on social and wedge issues, despite their professions of a small government philosophy. It is this particular hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance that makes living in the South under Republican control somewhat reminiscent of the Twilight Zone.
One might wonder if politicians even realize the ways in which they hold back the people in this state, providing fodder for stereotypes and national ridicule.
However, workers in union friendly states earn on average $1,540 more per year than workers in so-called right to work states. It is not just the Bible thumpers’ take on social issues that make for backwardness. As Henley of the Alabama AFL-CIO said, “It’s one more cog in the wheel that holds Alabama workers down.”
But most of the Alabama GOP’s “We Dare Defend Our Rights” legislative agenda, and their priorities in general, holds Alabamians down.
Restricting families’ personal choices holds Alabamians down. The war on drugs and concomitant police-state mentality holds Alabamians down. Neglect of the environment holds Alabamians down. Poor education holds Alabamians down. Inequitable taxation holds Alabamians down. And the common theme binding all these social and wedge issues together is that those who claim to hold conservative small government principles are more than willing to grow the size and scope of government to accomplish their most controversial ends.
And so, despite commission after commission, the state constitution could be amended one more time to drive home the point that Alabama is already a right to work state, rather than being thrown out as the racist document it is and being rewritten entirely for the “liberal” modern sensibilities of racial equality — amongst other issues like equitable taxation and local control.
According to the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, “The 1901 Alabama Constitution was written by men who wanted to deny rights to some citizens and keep control in their own hands.” The ACCR also notes that under the current state constitution, “because of tax laws written into it, families and the poor end up spending a much greater proportion of their income on taxes than do the wealthy.”
The state constitution centralizes power in Montgomery as a consequence of Jim Crow era politics, creating a centralized state government meant to offset the potential of racial minorities and the impoverished to influence local politics after Reconstruction. There are no elements of direct democracy found in other states’ constitutions, such as recalls or ballot initiatives. There are not even township governments to further divide counties into units of local direct democratic control.
Small government and home rule mean little to those who wish to impose their religious and business views onto the rest of us. But when you’re feeling important and winning elections, who cares? Well, at least the voters can still wake up and make changes… possibly.
I’m told that an old Russian proverb says “A drowning man clutches at straws.” Surely, those in power cannot perform so poorly and retain control—wedge issues can only stir up sentiments for so long before vexing the general public and becoming like straws tightly clutched by a fading power elite. Prohibition didn’t work, and neither will the rest of the conservative social agenda.
One might forget that the term Redneck came into existence as a slur against pro-union organizers in the West Virginia coal mines. But we should never forget the sacrifices made by generations past for the right to collective bargaining, and the differences made by unions over time, either way we vote or believe. “Union workers,” as Henley said, “make better wages, have better benefits, and more employee-friendly workplace policies than non-union workplaces.”
The AFL-CIO claims that “the percentage of private sector workers in unions has shrunk from 35 percent to 7 percent,” at the same time that “incomes of middle class Americans, and those who aspire to be middle class, have been stagnant for almost three decades.”
However, during that time both productivity and profits increased, contrary to wages. Consumer prices also rose, forcing a squeeze on workers that led to volatile credit bubbles and much of our current economic crises.
It is by such issues that the future of Alabama workers will sink or swim, and not by the favor of god in return for legislating morality.
The State Senate Business and Labor Committee recommended passage of the bill, just a day after Republican Rep. Steve King introduced H.R. 946 — the National Right to Work Act — in the Congress. Sponsored by State Senators Dial, Whatley, Taylor, McGill, Fielding, Brewbaker, Scofield, Reed, Marsh, Waggoner, Orr, and Allen, SB41 passed the full state Senate and now awaits action in the House.
Read our earlier coverage and watch the public hearing video here.
© 2013, T.W. Bigler. All rights reserved. The Locust Fork News-Journal, LocustFork.Net