In December 1953, a group of anti-labor business leaders gathered in Washington, DC, for the first in a series of secret meetings. The meetings were organized by a Southern paper-box manufacturer named Edwin S. Dillard, who was heir to the Old Dominion Box Company and had spent years fighting to keep his workforce from joining a union. The goal of the meetings: to find a way to crush the American labor movement.
Dillard enlisted the help of a prominent corporate public-relations firm, Selvage & Lee, to find others who might be committed to the cause. According to a trove of legal documents shared with The Nation by the UAW, their efforts brought together retired congressman Fred Hartley, who was notorious for spearheading what labor referred to as the “slave-labor bill”; Whiteford Blakeney, the nation’s premiere anti-union attorney (in later years, he would go on to help lead what one federal judge called a “full-scale war against unionization” at the J.P. Stevens textile plant against Crystal Lee Sutton, the real-life Norma Rae, and her coworkers); and representatives from GE, the Santa Fe Railway, and a host of Southern tobacco, manufacturing, and textile firms.
At one of these meetings, Dillard told the group that “it was time for the businessmen to realize that [the union shop] was an awful threat to our country, to their operations, to business in general all over the United States.” The group resolved to form “some kind of organization” to deal with labor.
By the third meeting, on December 15, 1954, the group (by then a collection of about a dozen true believers) had settled on a plan, at once simple and radical: Rather than continue to fight labor head-on, from the position of management, they would break labor from within. The key to this effort was an idea that had begun circulating on the segregationist Southern right for years and had recently been codified in a controversial provision of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 (crafted by the group’s own Fred Hartley). This provision, known as Section 14(b), allows states to pass “right-to-work” laws. Such laws permit workers to not pay any dues to a union that represents them in the workplace, and they are some of the most effective ways to defund and defang American labor from within.
In honor of that aspiration, the group dubbed itself the National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC).
Nearly 65 years later, on June 27, Mark Mix, president of both the National Right to Work Committee and its legal offshoot, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRWLDF), stood on the steps of the Supreme Court and gave a celebratory interview to Fox News. The occasion of the interview was the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which had been issued earlier that day: “We’re very excited about it. It’s a great day for individual employees, independent-minded employees, not only in Illinois but across the country,” Mix told Fox News’s Bill Hemmer during a friendly three-minute exchange. “The Supreme Court finally got it right!”