Jacobin: Unions are Political

Labor News

Union activists and supporters rally against the Supreme Court's ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case, in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan, June 27, 2018 in New York City. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that public employee unions cannot require non-members to pay fees. The ruling will have significant financial impacts for organized labor. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Reprinted from Jacobin by Will Bloom on July 4, 2018.

“The sword hanging over the American labor movement has finally fallen,” writes Will Bloom in Jacobin. “After years of near misses, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in Janus v. AFSCME that ruled it unconstitutional for public sector unions to agree with employers to collect agency fees from workers they represent but who refuse to join the union. This ruling overturned a forty-year-old precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, breaching the core legal principle that courts should be hesitant to reverse prior decisions.

“While Justice Alito’s opinion for the Court is deeply flawed, and ignores the many ways the collection of agency fees could be squared with the First Amendment, it does get at a legitimate problem with one of the main conclusions of Abood: that a union’s collective bargaining and contract enforcement is somehow nonideological and distinct from a union’s ‘ideological’ activity, such as involvement in elections. This line-drawing between a union’s ‘political’ activity outside the workplace and ‘nonpolitical’ activity within the workplace — a distinction that has been vociferously reinforced by Abood’s backers in both the labor movement and the judiciary — fundamentally undermines unions’ efficacy.

“The labor movement’s insistence on upholding this distinction between ‘ideological’ and ‘nonideological’ union activities has dampened the development of class consciousness — and with it, the development of working-class power — in America’s unions. Ironically, this has created a labor movement that, when the knives came out, was too weak to stop Janus. …

Jacobin 7/4

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About Jeffrey Burman 5209 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at jeffrey.s.burman.57@gmail.com.

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