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"Right to Work" Means "Union Busting"

A History of Right to Work Laws as Right-Wing Projects on Behalf of Organized Wealth

Over the next three weeks more than two dozen pages of my original research
will be linked to this page as a resource for people defending Labor Fairnes
against so-called "Right to Work" laws, which are more accurately called Union Busting laws.

 

Who is Reed Larson?

Roots in Kansas

>Factoid: Reed Larson was the head of the National Right to Work Committee for decades

In 1947, native Kansan Reed Larson joined the engineering department of the Coleman Company in Wichita, which manufactured home heating equipment. Larson joined the Wichita Junior Chamber of Commerce (the Jaycees), and was elected the group’s president in 1952. The Jaycees are a group within the Chamber of Commerce where the captains of industry watch their future lieutenants run projects.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was in the midst of a publicity program linking the New Deal programs, labor unions, and subversives as undermining the free enterprise system. In Kansas, Larson ran this right-wing project under the name "Operation Economy," which “directed distribution of literature to 40,000 employees of Wichita business concerns urging economy in government.” He was elected president of the statewide Kansas Jaycees in 1953.

Given the context of Larson’s work in the Jaycees, it is not surprising that in 1954 he was named the executive vice president of the new Kansans for Right to Work. Other Midwest states—Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota—had already passed Right to Work legislation, as had nearby Arkansas. The first attempt to pass legislation in Kansas failed in 1954. Larson helped mount publicity and organizing campaign, and in 1958 Kansans for Right to Work saw their efforts succeed through a public referendum that modified the state constitution. The victory boosted Larson’s reputation in the national scene, and deservedly so.

Several other states saw Right to Work laws defeated around the same time. It had been three years since the last state passed a similar law (Utah in 1955), and it would be 18 years before the next state, Louisiana, did likewise.

It was in Kansas that Larson honed his skills at coalition building, and was exposed to the ultraconservative political ideology he would later come to master:

“The Kansas Right to Work movement was actively supported by ultra rightists who later became leaders of the John Birch Society in Kansas. They included Sheldon Coleman, president of the Coleman Corporation, and Leonard Banowetz, who chaired a labor committee of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. (Banowetz later became a field coordinator for the John Birch Society.) Robert D. Love, owner of the Love Box Company and a director of Kansans for Right to Work, subsequently became a member of the National Council of the John Birch Society.”

Larson came to the attention of Edwin Dillard, chairman of the National Right to Work Committee, who would soon join the Kansas contingent as an endorser of the ultraconservative John Birch Society (JBS). In 1959 (the same year the JBS began operation) Dillard recruited Larson to be the executive vice president of the National Right to Work Committee.

Here Reed Larson, President of the National Right to Work Committee is featured as a hero and "Fighter for Worker Rights" in the ultraconservative John Birch Society magazine Review of the News.

The interview is by John Rees, a former FBI informer who spied on progressive organizations not only for feds and the JBS, but also the laye right-wing Comgressman Larry McDonald (R-GA), who for a brief time was the leader of the John Birch Society.

The JBS is consumed with elaborate conspiracy theories about communist subversion and liberal treachery.

Larson kept up his contacts in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, writing in a letter to the group, “We are anxious to continue the close cooperation we have enjoyed with members of the staff of the U.S. Chamber.”

In the 1970s, W. B. Camp, an early director and major contributor to the NRTWC, chaired the Voluntary Unionism Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a group he had previously served as treasurer. Larson often was invited to sit in on meetings of the Voluntary Unionism Committee while Camp was chair.
Outreach to business leaders became a hallmark of Larson’s tenure at the NRTWC, and he was “successful in recruiting the support of various employer associations such as the National Federation of Independent Business, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Meat Association, the Apparel Manufacturers, and the National Knitwear Manufacturers Association in state right to work campaigns.”

Reed Larson was not in Kansas anymore; and the road he was following led to something quite similar to Oz.

Next: The National Right to Work Committee is Founded

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

Notes:


Wynn, et al., “Report,”

Wynn, et al., “Report,”

Wynn, et al., “Report,”

Wynn, et al., “Report,”

Wynn, et al., “Report,”

Washington Times.

Wynn, et al., “Report,”

Ibid.

Wynn, et al., “Report,”

Wynn, et al., “Report,”

Group Research, The Organized Right Wing Versus Organized Labor

Wynn, et al., “Report,”

Wynn, et al., “Report,”

Wynn, et al., “Report,”

Wynn, et al., “Report,”

 

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 th 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.

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