Libertarian Concept That Unions Are Civil Right Spreads

Interesting editorial as Libs push for collective bargaining, meet with unions nationwide in US…

National View: The right to unionize should be a civil right
By Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit
Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. Moshe Z. Marvit is an employment discrimination and labor lawyer. They are the co-authors of “Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice.”
September 03, 2012 12:00 AM

In 1961, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to the United Auto Workers about what the civil rights movement had learned from the labor movement. He said that, in the 1930s, “you creatively stood up for your rights by sitting down at your machines, just as our courageous students are sitting down at lunch counters across the South.”

When King was describing the “kinship” between the two movements, organized labor was strong, representing about a third of the non-agricultural private-sector workforce. The civil rights movement was still a fledgling campaign, not yet having won passage of the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act.

This Labor Day, the roles have reversed. The civil rights movement is the nation’s iconic cause. The gay rights movement, hardly a blip on the radar screen a half-century ago, is winning meaningful victories in the courts and in legislatures. But unions are on the road to virtual extinction.

Even public-sector unions, now a majority of the labor movement, are on the defensive. A new movie, “Won’t Back Down,” unfairly paints teachers unions as impediments to quality education for students of color. One character asks, “When did Norma Rae get to be the bad guy?”

To revive itself, labor must rediscover its roots as an early civil rights movement for workers. In some places, this is already starting to happen. On Aug. 11, the AFL-CIO held a massive rally in Philadelphia demanding a “Second Bill of Rights,” including the right to organize and bargain collectively. This summer, the UAW has been trying to organize a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., where 70 percent of the workforce is African-American, using a civil rights frame.

“The civil rights experience was fought on that very ground,” the UAW’s Gary Casteel told Reuters. “We’ve been saying that worker rights is the civil rights battle of the 21st century.”


  1. Iris Gaddis · · Reply

    Unions work with statist governments to take away the freedoms of the workers. They deal in threats and coercion. They are collectivists and are as evil and corrupt as any totalitarian government.

    1. Note private companies may do so as well but that is not an argument to get rid of private companies. Libertarians have been changing unions dramatically. Thanks.

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