The Right in Labor
It will take work to give birth to an American right that cares about workers, but there are plenty of opportunities.
When last weekend Southwest Airlines canceled nearly two thousand flights, many on the right took something of a victory lap. The cancellations were caused by either an odd cascade of weather incidents and circumstances that appeared to only affect the budget airline or a staff shortage triggered by pilots taking sick leave and paid time off in response to Covid vaccine mandates and imminent layoffs. Dependent as most of us are on media and authorities not lying to us, it is sort of hard to say for sure.
As TAC contributing editor Sohrab Ahmari wrote, summarizing the situation in a column Tuesday,
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association echoed the firm’s denials that vaccines and walkouts caused the weekend crisis. But even stipulating that weather was to blame, it’s notable that the union is suing the airline to stop the airline’s vax mandate on the grounds that the issue needs to be negotiated over, rather than merely handed down by federal and company diktat. The union has threatened disruptions if the mandate goes ahead and reluctant pilots are sacked en masse.
This moment of labor action pushing a political hot button became (is becoming, in this column) the pedestal for renewed calls for the American right to seek to give birth, in the GOP or out of it, to a party that meets the needs of American workers. Here’s Ahmari again:
For those of us on the right who want to see the GOP remade as a workers’ party, this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where commitment matters. And we don’t get to tell workers what to get worked up about, though we should certainly seek to widen our policy and political backing beyond the current vaccine question.
To which I say, yes, let’s do it. The right does need to think critically about its relationship to organized labor and organized capital, to distinguish between public and private sector unions, and to consider where workers’ organizations fall in the ladder of subsidiarity and solidarity that makes up the nation. All of conservatism’s dreams for American life, especially that of healthy families, require that normal people, not just those with advanced degrees, be able to earn a decent living; there will certainly not be any return to single-income households as normal without some squeals of pain from corporate finance, as markets distended by globalization are corrected by national political will.
The right has an opportunity to exercise any post-Southwest enthusiasm for strike actions now, in light of the UAW action at Deere & Company of John Deere tractors. This is not a call to uncritically accept the goodwill of national and international labor organizations, which even setting aside ideological commitments are often more enamored with their status and power in D.C. than the good of their members. Continue to be suspicious. But it is a test case in which we can practice ignoring the right revulsion that has been inculcated in the red voter by public sector organizations like teachers’ unions so that we might reconsider the prudential opportunities in private collective bargaining.
As the New York Times reported, “Some 10,000 unionized workers at the agriculture equipment maker Deere & Company went on strike early Thursday after overwhelmingly rejecting a contract proposal worked out with the company by negotiators for the United Automobile Workers union.” Deere, a publicly traded company worth more than $100 billion, has seen its shares triple since the beginning of pandemic measures—it is set to earn some $6 billion this fiscal year. That profitability, plus higher agricultural commodity prices and supply chain issues, apparently led factory workers to conclude they have leverage and that now is a good opportunity to continue negotiations. There are, of course, other labor actions occurring across the country, and the NYT notes that workers “on strike elsewhere in the country have raised similar complaints as the Deere employees, pointing out that they put in long hours as essential workers during the pandemic but are not sharing much of the profits that their companies reaped during that time.”
The Deere strike appears a straightforward demand for improved wages and benefits, especially in regards to retirement pensions and health care. These are exactly the sort of things welfare-state skeptical conservatives should want the private sector providing—not everything can be shunted onto Americans’ rightly praised charitableness. Deere workers, primarily striking in Iowa and Illinois, are exactly the great American middle that politicians are constantly jockeying to champion; behold, flyover country, and a situation in which your rhetoric is nearly all that is needed. And to repeat a point above, if your vision of the future includes the return of bread-earner jobs for most American families, it will require that factory-working men make more money.
Of course, that will not just require union actions. The reason that public sector labor unions are so repulsive is that as citizens of a representative democracy, a universal-suffrage republic, Americans already have mechanisms for voicing their needs to and demanding their rights from the government. Public unions are a kind of extraconstitutional double representation. In a sense, to be extra corny for a moment, citizenship is the biggest union membership of them all. To correct the American labor market, then, so that it can again provide the sorts of wages conservative priorities demand, requires doing something about all the scabs the establishment of both parties gleefully use to depress your wages and soon your vote. Until there is some kind of collective bargaining that arrests the exploitation of guest workers and illegal immigrants by corporate powers to undermine the position of American citizens, no amount of legal strikes by organized workers is going to build the future we want to live in.
about the author
Micah Meadowcroft is managing editor of The American Conservative. He is also a 2021-21 Robert Novak journalism fellow for the Fund for American Studies. Before joining TAC he served as White House Liaison at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and assisted in speechwriting there. He holds an MA in social science from the University of Chicago, where he wrote on political theory. Previously, he worked as associate editor of the Washington Free Beacon. This is his second stint at TAC, as not so long ago he was an editorial assistant for the magazine. His BA is in history from Hillsdale College, where he also minored in journalism. Micah hails from the Pacific Northwest, and like Odysseus hopes to return home someday after long exile in the East.