The Right to Work

On the twenty-second of May, this year, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Hanson Case. The decision of the court in this matter is one which has considerable significance in the area of labor.

The Hanson Case arose when four men, employed by the Union Pacific Railroad in the state of Nebraska challenged the constitutionality of the union shop provision of the Railroad Labor Act which was passed by Congress to control the labor relations of public carriers and their employees. The Railroad Labor Act allows for the union shop contract. This union shop contract would make it necessary for every employee to join the union or forfeit his right to work as an employee of the Union Pacific Railroad which had hired him. The state of Nebraska, however, had passed a “right to work” law which made it un lawful to discharge an employee who refuses to become a member of a labor organization. The Taft-Hartley Labor Law, which controls the labor-management relations in most of American industry, contains a provision which states that union shop contracts may not be negotiated in those states which have “right to work” laws. It becomes clear, therefore, that there is a difference between the law governing public carriers, the Railroad Labor Act, and the law which governs most of the other industries in the country, namely, the Taft-Hartley Law. It is also clearly evident that this clause which allows for the recognition of the state “right to work” laws is the arch enemy of organized unionism. The states which have passed such laws have served notice to organized labor that no man shall forfeit his right to work in the place of his choice and in the place where the opportunity to work is given to him because of either his desire or his refusal to join a labor union.

In the Hanson Case the Supreme Court declared that the “right to work” law which has been passed by the state of Nebraska did not apply to these men who were under the regulations of the Railroad Labor Act. The court maintained that though the states may pass “right to work” laws generally, they become null and void when the federal government legislates in the same field. This action of the court is of considerable consequence. Not only have they declared that workers on public carriers do not fall under the protection of “right to work” laws, but they have also served notice that one simple amendment to the Taft-Hartley law will deprive all other American workers of the protection that such laws afford. An amendment to drop the clause allowing for the passage of “right to work” laws by the states has now, in principle, been declared to be in harmony with the constitution of the United States and the rights and privileges guaranteed under it.


It must be noted further that this possibility is not outside the realm of probability. The Honorable John Dingell, junior congressman from the state of Michigan, has already placed a bill before the House of Representatives which is designed to destroy the Taft-Hartley clause which allows the states to bar compulsory unionism by the passage of “right to work” laws.

It is difficult to see consistency in the reasoning which is utilized by some in this matter. When labor began its struggle for recognition it was necessary that they be protected under the provisions of the Wagner Act. Here it was declared that no worker shall be dismissed by management for joining a labor union. It was then argued that a man who desired to exercise his right of conscience and assembly by joining a labor union could not therefore be discharged from employment. To do so would be to deprive him of rights and privileges guaranteed to him under the constitution. Right to work laws would do precisely the same thing except in reverse. Now it seems the force of previous arguments does not apply.

Social institutions and organizations must exist and grow under the protection of government, but membership in them must not be by compulsion which is sanctioned or allowed by law. When the law itself allows for such compulsion then, it seems to me, the social organization in question becomes an agency of government in an indirect by very real sense. When management and production facilities are made to be agencies of governmental action then free enterprise is lost and socialism sets in. Similarly when labor unions become agencies of government to which every worker is forced to belong, then the right of conscience and assembly is denied and the structure of a communistic state becomes a real possibility.

The practical effect of this decision of the court can also be clearly seen. Present day unionism has adopted the tactic of organizing not only workers but also companies. The coercive methods of labor are now directed not only against workers directly but also indirectly through the forced organizing of companies. (See t. and t., July 1956; Readers Digest, July 1956.) With the repeal of the “right to work” laws no one will be able to protest.

To speak of these matters is to commit political suicide. Democrats and Republicans alike refuse to guarantee the right of conscience to every American at this point.

Not only is this true in political areas but also the church is opposed to such “right to work” laws. The Roman Catholic church has spoken against them. Recently the National Council of Christian Churches in America has allowed its Division of Christian Life and Work to express itself as being opposed to right to work legislation.

In this Labor Day season Christian workers must begin carefully to analyze and study this broad problem of labor legislation and its effects upon the right of conscience, which is the God-given right of every individual.

It is my opinion that if the present trend of legislation and interpretation of law continues, the time will come when everyone wiII be denied the right to buy or sell except a union card be first displayed. When and if such time comes then it will become painfully evident that the Christian will have no voice in the affairs of labor. But I am also sure that at that same time a Christian labor organization will not be given the right to exist either. For a. Christian to live in the consciousness of the Kingship of Jesus Christ in the area of labor will then become an impossibility.

Now, it seems to me, is the time to raise our voice. We must speak against the coercive tactics of labor organizations and demand the protection of the rights and privileges of every worker. This must be heard in Washington but also on the local level. This cry must come from responsible laboring people but also from little business men. The first group is in danger of losing their rights and the second can easily become the organizing mechanism for labor organizations.

If the right of minority opinion is not at this point preserved the time will come when the right of a Christian labor organization to exist will be denied. I am convinced that when we become more aware of the issues involved in the area of labor and management relations we will be satisfied with nothing less than a positively Christian labor organization. God forbid that when such time comes we should be denied our right to have one.

Recently Justice Douglas of the Supreme Court said, “The right to work, I had assumed, was the most precious liberty that man possesses. Man has indeed as much right to work as he has to live…” In the light of the opinion which he has just written in the Hanson Case, we wonder whether he really believes this.