Another Amendment One: The right to work (for less)

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Tennessee is a Right to Work state, which means that union contracts must protect all workers, not just union members. It’s an oddly-socialistic concept put into practice by hard-core capitalist legislators – allegedly to protect all workers. It’s already settled law and is an excellent example of the weasel words employed by politicians who want to disguise their true intentions.

Our legislators, being a bunch of belt-and-suspenders types, now say they want to enshrine the “Right to Work” into the state constitution, so this November, it will be the first of four proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot:

“Shall Article XI of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by adding the following language as a new section?

“It is unlawful for any person, corporation, association, or this state or its political subdivisions to deny or attempt to deny employment to any person by reason of the person’s membership in, affiliation with, resignation from, or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization.”

Amendment One will probably get approved (they mostly all do, absent strong, organized opposition). It’s another display of the GOP’s shameless propaganda skills, highlighted by the ability to step through the looking glass and make words mean the opposite of their settled definitions. “Right to work” is a hoary old union-busting tactic that allows non-union workers to benefit from rights secured by dues-paying union workers, which, sure as night follows day, means that there will be fewer union members. This, of course diminishes the union’s bargaining strength and will result in lower pay and fewer benefits.

Amendment One of 2014

This reminds me of another Amendment One – the 2014 “trigger” amendment that enabled Tennessee and other states to instantly enact any and all anti-abortion laws already on the books when Roe v Wade was struck down this summer – including laws like the ones prohibiting abortion to save the life of the mother or to protect a child victim of incest or rape. We are just beginning to feel the consequences of these measures.

Here is an example of the mind-blowing deceit that sold the 2014 Amendment One:

The CWA strike of 1955

The photo I picked to illustrate this column shows me, my sister and two of my brothers walking a picket line with our father when he was out on strike against Southern Bell in 1955. That’s the Broadway viaduct behind us. I haul it out every year for Labor Day and plaster it all over my Facebook page and joke about having been mortified to be marching up and down Broadway carrying a sign.

It took me most of a lifetime to figure out what the real story was, because to me the Strike of  ’55 was no big hardship. It mostly meant I got to eat cafeteria lunches because the union gave us vouchers, and I was quite happy to swap my baloney and cheese sandwich and carrot sticks for a hot meal and a Brown Cow, which was an unimaginable pre-strike luxury.

I didn’t begin to perceive any greater meaning to the Strike of ’55 until I looked it up years later and learned that it was a historic labor struggle that pitted Southern Bell (a government-protected monopoly) against 50,000 members of the Communication Workers of America who were struggling for better benefits and to protect their right to organize – Ma Bell versus 50,000 working families. After 72 days, the union beat the Big Mother.

Mama was relieved and Daddy, who had been mad for months, was happy as I’d ever seen him. I wouldn’t have minded a few more weeks of Brown Cows.

As the years went by, I got to wondering how my parents were able to afford to buy a home and a piece of land, provide music lessons and camping trips, Cub Scouts and athletics and college for those of us who wanted to go, all on a cable splicer’s salary (although things got easier later on when my mother went back to work as a school teacher). Took a long time to understand that the Strike of ’55 had a lot to do with all that.

It also took a long time for me to realize that we had what we had because Daddy was a union man. We never got rich, but it made all the difference for us.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.

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