Janus v ASFCME, a valid case to argue - Copyright ASFCME 2018

Janus v AFSCME is a case which the Supreme Court is going to hear. The arguments should be, therefore, about what the law is on this issue. The actual arguments being had are about whether the plutocrats are going to crush organised labour or, from the other side, should the public sector unions be able to hold the Republic to ransom? This is a pity of course – what the law is, even what the law should be, is not an issue to be decided by how left or right wing you or we are. It’s you know, what’s the law here?

A 20-year campaign by rightwing billionaire donors to undermine trade unions and strike a blow at the progressive movement in Americacomes to a climax on Monday, in a hearing at the US supreme court.

The nine justices of the nation’s highest court will hear arguments in Janus V AFSCME, a case that has the potential to strip unions of a major source of income. Should the court rule against the public sector unions – as many fear it will – they stand to suffer a decline in their 7.2 million-strong membership, and with it the withering of their political strength.

The specific issue is “fair-share” fees. That is, if a union cannot compel membership – that is, there is no closed shop in existence – but negotiates pay and conditions, can the union charge non-members for that work done doing the negotiations over pay and conditions enjoyed despite non-membership of the union? Our own instinctive reaction is no but that is simply gut reaction. Clubs don’t get to charge fees to people who have decided not to be members of the club. Sure, there’s that spillover effect but then life is simply packed with spillover effects, positive and negative, and we don’t go around charging for all of them. There’s a line of materiality to be crossed before we do. But gut reactions and the law aren’t good companions so our opinion is just that, an opinion.

However, this is a case which should be argued, whichever side you take on the larger political issue. For the claim from the plutocratic running dogs (there is much about how the case, indeed the basic idea, has been funded by varied charitable offshoots of many plutocrats) is that such charges enable the wider political power of the public sector unions. This is a significant power in American politics too. Is it right that people who do not wish to be union members should be paying for union political work?

And the thing is this contention is admitted to:

Lee Saunders, president of the AFSCME, the nation’s largest public employee union and the defendant in Monday’s Janus case, said the intention behind the legal action was to gut the power of progressive forces. “The billionaires and corporate special interests behind this case don’t believe we should have a seat at the table,” he said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the Bradley Foundation’s aim was to create “a monopoly on economic and political power. They want the playing field entirely to themselves.”

Those union leaders really do seem to be saying that these fees, supposedly only to pay for the negotiations carried out from which non-members benefit, are actually used to fund wider union power and campaigns. Well, yes, it probably is a good idea that this method of funding is tested to see whether it accords with the law, don’t you think? Whichever side you or we actually support, the plutocrats or the public sector unions?