Scab Rebecca Friedrichs Featured Speaker at Republican Convention

October 25, 2020 4:25 PM

In the first ten minutes on the first night of its 2020 National Convention, the Republican Party featured a notorious anti-union former teacher, Rebecca Friedrichs, to deliver a vitriolic attack against labor unions. Friedrichs was the plaintiff in the 2016 Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which aimed to defund and weaken public sector labor unions across the country.

At on time or another, as union members, many of us have run into a treacherous co-worker who is eager to lick the boots of their boss. There’s a term for such a character – scab. That’s Ms. Friedrichs in a nutshell.

The Republican Party’s choice of Ms. Friedrichs as the second speaker in its convention is a disturbing signal that the GOP is now even more hostile to the rights of workers than it has ever been.

So-called “Right-to-Work” Laws – A Long Term Strategy to Kill Unions

In 1935, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a law – the National Labor Relations Act – that protected the right of American workers to join unions and they immediately jumped at the chance, organizing and agitating for union contracts. That was what created America’s huge working middle class. Until that historic turning point, the American working class lived in abject poverty, with little hope for the future. Before the NLRA, the United States had a small middle class consisting of people like storekeepers, lawyers, and doctors.

In the decade after the NLRA was passed, the percentage of unionized American workers jumped from 10% to over 33%. This completely transformed the standard of living of most Americans, including those who were not in unions, and gave the average American the greatest standard of living on earth and in history. That is why Americans traditionally think “middle class” when they hear “working class.”

That historic transformation was great for America and for the large majority of Americans, but it was not a welcome change to many wealthy and powerful Americans, and a powerful coalition of Republican and Southern Democratic politicians immediately began planning a long-term strategy to reverse those gains for workers.

In 1947, the Republican Party won a majority in Congress for the first time in many years and, in an unholy alliance with racist and vehemently anti-union Southern “Dixiecrats,” passed the Taft-Hartley Act specifically designed to severely weaken the power of labor unions. The key provision of the Taft-Hartley Act gave individual states the right to enact so-called “right-to-work” laws which allowed non-members to refuse to pay union dues while at the same time requiring unions to provide those employees, free of charge, all the same representational services received by dues-paying members, paid for by those dues-paying members.

Obviously, this extraordinarily strange legal provision requiring union members to pay for union representation to non-members was designed to bleed unions to death. The states that passed “right-to-work” laws were mainly the same Southern, former slave states that were also passing “Jim Crow” laws designed to persecute Black people.

It should be noted that at that time, not all Republican officeholders were anti-worker and anti-union. Many supported and were supported by unions, but the party overall was beholden to big business and against a strong labor movement.

The ugly and racist history of “right-to-work”

At the same moment in history that the Republican/Dixiecrat alliance was passing the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, that same political alliance was also viciously resisting the fight to end racial segregation and to give Black Americans the right to vote. Again, not all Republicans opposed civil rights. There was a significant liberal wing of the Republican Party that supported both civil rights and labor rights.

These two struggles – the Civil Rights movement and the labor movement – were strongly aligned and mutually supportive. The labor movement, including Local 6 and the Hotel Trades Council, provided immense political, financial, and moral support to Dr. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Council, the NAACP, CORE and the other major civil rights organizations. In fact, it was the powerful solidarity of American unions with the Civil Rights movement that was at the very root of Southern racist hatred for labor unions.

Vance Muse, a notorious racist lobbyist from Texas (who previously had lobbied against giving women the right to vote, child-labor laws, the 8-hour workday) promoted so-called “right-to-work” laws across the South. He insisted that “right-to-work” was essential to preserve Jim Crow rules and racial segregation in the South. Here’s one example of what Muse wrote at the time about what he considered the “dangers” of the new labor movement: “From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”

In the first 10 years after the Taft-Hartley Act, 17 states (mostly in the former Confederacy) passed “right-to-work” laws. By bleeding unions of their treasuries, these laws have effectively prevented large-scale new unionization while sapping existing unions of their power. As a result “right-to-work” states are also low-wage states.

Weaponizing the courts against working people

In 2012, there was a resurgence in “right-to-work” legislation as the Republican Party took power in former union strongholds like Michigan and Wisconsin. Today, a total of 27 states have passed them. In addition to weakening unions statehouse by statehouse, the right-wing began to weaponize the courts against unions.

The Center for Individual Rights, a conservative law firm funded by the likes of the Koch brothers, the Cato Institute, and the Bradley Foundation, looked for disgruntled public sector union members around the country who would be willing to sue their union and make “right-to-work” the law of the land.

The law firm approached Ms. Friedrichs, along with eight other California teachers, and got them to challenge the legal requirement that they pay fees to the union that are used towards bargaining for their contract, wage increases, and benefits. Friedrichs herself is nothing more than a tool of the wealthy donors and businesses that have been systematically and consistently pursuing this long-term strategy, year after year since 1947, to defund and destroy unions.

Ms. Friedrichs’s lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court, where it failed in a 4 to 4 vote after the death of Justice Scalia in 2016. While her case was ultimately unsuccessful, it laid the groundwork for another Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME, which resulted in a national right-to-work rule for public sector unions. Although Janus v. AFSCME affects only public sector unions (not private sector unions like ours), it is well understood that the forces behind it view the case as only one more step in this well-funded decades-long campaign to eradicate unions in America.

Watch Friedrich’s speech at the RNC:

Within minutes of the start of the 2020 Republican National Convention, Friedrichs proclaimed “Unions are subverting our republic” and accused the labor movement of “undermin[ing] educational excellence, morality, law, and order.” We urge members to watch her contemptible performance on YouTube.


A vote for the Republican Party is a vote against your union

Labor unions are by far the most successful and potent organizations in the United States that empower working people, on the job, and at the ballot box. For that reason, the wealthy and powerful have always regarded us as the most dangerous threat to their power.

Over the years, as the Republican Party has become more and more right-wing and the party of the rich and of big business, it has also become more anti-union and anti-worker. Friedrichs’ speech at the Republican convention is an unmistakable signal that the GOP cannot become any more anti-union.

While we wish that we could find and endorse allies in both parties, as we did in the past, we can’t anymore. The only way to make sure that our union, the labor movement, and the working middle class survives and grows in the years ahead is to vote the Republicans out on November 3rd.

To register to vote and make a plan for casting your ballot in the general election, click here.

If you’re interested in volunteering with us to call union members in swing-states in support of Joe Biden, click here.