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

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Home/Union Busting

The Old Christian Right
& the Anti-Union Alliance

In 1945, the CIO identified the Christian American Association as pressing to get passage of “anti-closed shop and other labor regulating laws in Southern States” and said the group had pledged to pass similar legislation in every state.

Both the CIO and AFL were organizing in the South during this period, and this in turn mobilized a major campaign against unions led by the National Association of Manufacturers.

According to Dixon:

The anti-labor mobilization carried out across states in the late 1930s and early 1940s was led by reactionary organizations like Christian American, as well as state and regionally-based employer associations like the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Southern States Industrial Council, the Chamber of Commerce, and state affiliates of the NAM. The anti-union message these groups promoted was not a particularly sophisticated one. Indeed, most claims made against unions centered on communism, corruption, and un-Americanism….”

Image: National Association of Manufacturers publication from 1930. Click image to enlarge.

This attack on labor unions as subversive had its supporter inside the U.S. Congress. David H. Bennett explains that the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) under Chairman Martin Dies in the early 1940s became a vehicle for an “anticommunist, anti-union, and anti-New Deal” campaign.

Image: 1946 Congressional study on communism prepared by the Library of Comgress. Click on image to enlarge.

The National Association of Evangelicals, founded in 1942, also “assailed the ‘revolutionary’ activities of the New Deal and the infiltration of government, the unions, and churches by ‘reds.’“ This type of attack lasted well into the 1950s. For Catholics, anti-Red fear mongering took the form of warnings from church leaders such as Francis Cardinal Spellman and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. According to Sara Diamond, the “internal subversion thesis and the view of liberalism as merely a soft form of communism provided the logic for Christian Rightists’ attacks on reputable Church bodies.”

A number of private groups were set up to monitor communist influences in the media, with special attention to theatre, film, radio, and television. Some fraternal organizations and veterans organizations issued educational materials on subversion. There were also “patriotic” women’s groups that sought to warn of subversion. The ultraconservative Church League of America attacked mainline Protestant denominations, but also kept a huge collection of files on subversives. For a fee, employers could have the files searched to see if a prospective employee had “subversive” sympathies or would be a “troublemaker” or “radical” in the workplace. The more secular American Security Council originally offered a similar blacklisting service. That this search was meant to ferret out union sympathizers seems obvious.

What we learn by looking at the interrelated currents of this period of the late 1930s and early 1940s is that ultraconservative strategists saw connections linking several overlapping social and political movements. These included the southern-based states’ rights movement; Old Christian Right concerns over a sinful culture; White fears about increasing rights for Blacks and other people of color; and a conspiracy theory about Roosevelt and communist subversion that went far beyond legitimate concerns about communism as an ideology.

To put it another way, in the 1930s and 1940s ultraconservatives who wanted to garner public support for attacks on the rights of workers and union organizers could exploit fears over communism, collectivism, sinful immorality, race, and states’ rights.

Today these same themes are exploited by ultraconservative demagogues such as Glenn Beck and various Tea Party groups.

“CIO Threatens State Legislators,” 1945, New York Times, Jan 22, p. 18, online archive.

Dixon, The Politics of Union Decline, p. 20; citing  (Green 1979; Marshall 1967; Pichardo 1995) – themes that had not changed considerably from the drives against unionism in previous decades (Bendix 1956; Bernstein 1960).

Bennett, Party of Fear.

Heale, American Anticommunism,.

Bennett, Party of Fear; Heale, American Anticommunism.

Diamond Roads to Dominion.

Heale, American Anticommunism..

Scher, Cold War on the Home Front.

Donner, Age of Surveillance, pp. 422-424.

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"
--------------Section 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

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.

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