Right to Work is a big issue in this year’s veto session that starts today at the Capitol. The legislature passed it last May and the governor vetoed it. The arguments on both sides last May were soooo familiar. And sooooo old.
We’ve been digging into the papers of Governor Herbert Hadley as we wrap up the first, rough, draft of a new book about the history of the Capitol. We came across one from W. A. Layman (at least that’s what we think his signature says) who was a Vice President and General Management for Wagner Electric in St. Louis when the Board of Public Buildings announced in July, 1911 that the new Capitol would be built with union labor. Within hours, the Citizens Industrial Association, in St. Louis, organized a letter-writing campaign against the announcement. Many of the letters from St. Louis businesses—and a few from Kansas City—are in the Hadley papers at the State Historical Society in Columbia.
Here’s part of Layman’s letter:
“To apply the Closed Shop principle…is not only fundamentally wrong in principle, in our opinion, but it will be seriously harmful to all substantial business interests in the State and will have particularly the tendency to place all manufacturing institutions of the State at a great disadvantage in the competitive markets of the country as a whole.
“You are aware that certain leading cities of the country are to-day employing the “Open Shop” principle in all industrial and building operations and the result is not only a condition of social peace and harmony in the industrial life of the community, but in great industrial prosperity for the employer and the employee alike.”
The phrase “paycheck protection” was about a century away from creation when he wrote his letter on July 6, 1911. That’s the current buzz phrase to describe what for several decades has been called Right to Work. But the arguments haven’t changed, have they? Mandatory union membership hurts business and places manufacturers (and the State) in a competitive disadvantage. Open Shop leads to economic prosperity and several other entities are flourishing because they’ve adopted the practice.
The Capitol was built with union labor. It seems to have turned out okay. That’s not to say it couldn’t have been built as well with an open shop. It’s just that some of the stuff that goes on inside it never goes away. And nobody seems to have found any fresh and creative arguments. It gets so tiresome but the issue will always be with us as long as there is labor and there is management and each seeks a politically-protected status. But, gosh, folks, wouldn’t you think that after more than a century of these same arguments, somebody would be able to provide some conclusive evidence that one side or the other REALLY does create some kind of economic nirvana?
Morale of the story: No issue is too old to flog. Especially if it plays to the advantage of one party or another and helps undermine the losing side.