A History of Right to Work Laws as Right-Wing Projects on Behalf of Organized Wealth
Original research as a resource for people defending Labor Fairness against so-called "Right to Work" laws,
which are more accurately called Union Busting laws.

A section of the Organized Wealth v. Organizing for Human Rights website
Tracking the Attack on Working People, Immigrants, the Impoverished, and Equality for All from Roosevelt to Obama

Militant Social Movements Pull Political Parties in their Direction - It is Never the Other Way Around
(Under Construction - Please be Patient)

Home/Union Busting


by Chip Berlet

How dare I claim that "Right to Work" really means Union Busting?

Let's start with some quotes by the former head of the anti-union National Right to Work Committee, Reed Larson:

The union hierarchy, operating on billions of dollars plucked from workers’ paychecks, comprises a political machine unmatched by any other in America—a political machine whose philosophy consistently lines up with the socialist fringe in its assault on the rights of individual citizens to live their lives free of government intervention.

Unless we deal with this fundamental injustice, all of the valiant efforts to prevent our country from being engulfed in a flood-tide of leftist social engineering are destined to failure. The special coercive privileges enjoyed by union officials under federal law have enabled them to amass a degree of political power behind their collectivist schemes that no other special interest comes close to matching. Their power to dictate public policy is out of all proportion to the number of persons whose views they truly represent.

Whatever your concern, whether it be taxes, education, health care, the economy, or myriad other issues that need addressing, you can be assured that the propagation of the statist, anti-freedom position on each of those issues is being funded largely with union money, essentially seized at gun point from workers.*

Wait a minute!

  • Assault on the rights of individual citizens?
  • Fundamental injustice?
  • Flood-tide of leftist social engineering?
  • Socialist fringe?
  • Collectivist schemes?
  • The statist, anti-freedom position?
  • Seized at gun point from workers?

Most working people will find these phrases to be overblown rhetoric and, frankly, somewhat bizarre. Historians, political scientists, and sociologists, however, will recognize the language of ultraconservative political ideologues who think America went down the tubes in the 1930s when Franklin Delano Roosevelt used “collectivist schemes” of “social engineering” to steer the nation toward “statist, anti-freedom” policies. These “statist” policies and programs—we know them as Social Security, unemployment insurance, public assistance, low-cost housing, and public health—were embraced as sensible and useful by most Democrats and Republicans for some forty years.

How did 1% of the population of the United States come to own some 40% of our nation’s wealth? And why is it the mission of the most right-wing sector of these elites to crush labor unions?

But let's be clear that there are business people and wealthy people who defend the rights of working people, run corporations where there are tough but fair negotiations with unions, and find the ultraconservative snobs disgusting.

Since the 1930s a small group of wealthy ultraconservative elitists has been rolling back the mandate to “promote the general welfare” assigned to the federal government in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. When the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt began to weave a social safety net to protect working people, these wealthy elitists took out their knives and began to slash at the fabric of our society’s commitment to the common good.

Greed is not good, contrary to the slogan of fictional financial guru Gordon Gecko in the film Wall Street. Greed is not good for most of us, no matter where we locate ourselves on the political spectrum. Almost all of us—certainly 99%--support the ability of working people to earn a decent living, ensure worksite health and safety, organize on behalf of their economic interests, and defend their basic dignity.

The Rev. Martin Luther King spoke of the “Beloved Community” and his concern that either we build that community or we face chaos. It is the community-shattering selfishness and greed of the top 1% in this country that has generated the Occupy Wall Street movement, which seeks a fair deal where everyone pays their fair share. Only a tiny 1% of the population benefits from the current lopsided economic arrangements and policies.

When it retooled its campaign to defend its unfair wealth, power, and privilege in the 1960s, the national network of ultraconservative wealthy elitists was far to the right of the main branch of the Republican Party. Today this network—through skillful reframing of issues, coalition building, and tireless mobilizing of voters—has significant influence in the Republican Party. In this report we refer to the top 1% of wealthy elitists as Organized Wealth.

The attack by Organized Wealth on working people, the middle class, organized labor, and the impoverished is being led by ultraconservatives, Free Market ideologues, and the Christian Right. In 1915 the American Federation of Labor wrote of the campaign by “organized wealth to crush the labor movement,” as recorded in the report of the AFL annual convention. So almost a hundred year ago we faced the same selfish forces of organized wealth and their phony claims that greed is good.

How does it work?

The most effective way for Organized Wealth to distract attention from their kleptocracy is to peddle a subversion panic using scare tactics.

In this way, the blame for economic, political, and social tensions is transferred away from a fundamentalist and unfair form of Laissez Faire "Free Market" capitalism to a phantasm of collectivists, communists, organized labor bosses, banksters, and other alleged scapegoated subversives and traitors. At the same time, defense of unequal racial and gender hierarchies can be mobilized as part of the countersubversion effort.

They use right-wing populist rhetoric to enlist a mass base to defend their unfair power, privilege, and wealth. A large, mostly middle-class, mostly white constituency is thus convinced to side with Organized Wealth as a way to defend their relative and precarious power and privilege in society.

The creation of the Tea Parties was a result of massive funding by Organized Wealth. The rapid growth of the Tea Party movement, however, is due to the incorporation of the frames and narratives of pre-existing movements with a conspiracist worldview such as the Patriot Movement (from the John Birch Society to the armed militias) and the Christian Right (especially the Dominionist tendency).

The Tea Parties are therefore just the latest appearance of a right-wing populist revolt tracing back to attacks on Roosevelt Administration policies and even earlier episodes of regressive populist revolts.

The minions of Organized Wealth have convinced many Americans to oppose the guarantee of basic human rights and dignity to working people both inside and outside of labor unions. And, at the same time, they have stepped on the rights and aspirations of women, people of color, gay people, immigrants, and the working poor.

This may seem an alarming—even outrageous—claim, and the rest of this report is dedicated to defending the charge.

Today there has been serious erosion of support for these and other public policies and programs that seek to “establish justice,” “insure domestic tranquility,” “promote the general welfare,” and “secure the blessings of liberty.” We see this in the attack on public sector unions in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states. The National Right to Work Committee played a major role in undermining these promises made to all of us in the Constitution of the United States, but it has not acted alone.

It’s not some secret conspiracy; it is a loosely knit network of intelligent and talented people and groups who marshal profound and passionate ideological arguments in defense of their unfair wealth and power. When ultraconservative activists look in the mirror every morning, they think of themselves as patriotic people rescuing America from a “flood-tide of leftist social engineering” led by that traitorous socialist, Barack Obama.

It’s an amazing story.

Next: Who is Reed Larson? Roots in Kansas


Larson, Reed, 2000. “Government-Granted Coercive Power: How Big Labor Blocks the Freedom Agenda.” Speech delivered at  Hillsdale College, September 15, 1999, reprinted in Imprimis, Vol. 29, No. 4 (April).






The Union-Busting Collection:

  1. Introduction
  2. Who is Reed Larson? Roots in Kansas
  3. The National Right to Work Committee is Founded
  4. Larson & Hardball Anti-Union Propaganda
  5. Right to Work & the John Birch Society
  6. The Union Busting Propaganda Machine
  7. Union Busting, States’ Rights, Culture Wars, and Race
  8. The Old Christian Right & the Anti-Union Alliance

More Resources

"Right to Work" Means "Union Busting"
home page

Browse a chart showing the right-wing moneybags that fund a national network of anti-union think tanks and policy groups.

See the spiderweb chart of right-wing funders and anti-union think tanks.

Browse a timeline of right-wing organizing on behalf of Organized Wealth.

This chart illustrates that three times since the early 1960s a strategic ultra-conservative coalition has mobilized to move the Republican Party to the Right.

Read this Report on the Right-Wing Juggernaut

Read this Report on the Right-Wing Juggernaut

Politics In America: the American Right, by Joanne Ricca, of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, who with a handful of other labor and progressive journalists began tracking the right-wing juggernaut 30 years ago. In PDF format at the union's website.

Democracy is a process,
not a specific set of institutions

Democracy is a process that assumes
the majority of people, over time,
given enough accurate information,
the ability to participate
in a free and open public debate,
and can vote without intimidation, reach constructive decisions
that benefit the whole of society, and
preserve liberty,
protect our freedoms,
extend equality, and
defend democracy.


Under Construction

Free Online Supplements to a Forthcoming Book, Organized Wealth, by Chip Berlet

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Copyright 2012, Chip Berlet,
Member, National Writers Union & Investigative Reporters and Editors.