I quickly read over the headlines this afternoon, and caught site of the phrase “Right to Work.” And I read a few of the snippets there for what was happening in Michigan, which is yet another attempt by a state to limit the power of unions. I find it fascinating that this phrase has been used completely unironically by people wanting to limit the power of unions.
In 1948, George Orwell wrote his famous and iconic dystopian novel, 1984. I read it first in the early ’70s, before I really understood much about the world, and the way it works. I read it again around 1984ish, I think just to remind myself of what it said, and assure myself that dystopia hadn’t come true. It’s probably about time that I read it again.
And of course, it hasn’t come to be reality, although many would argue that many parts of it have. In broad strokes, the major oppressive forces in the book of mass surveillance and constant war have arguably come to pass, although quite milder in form and effect. But we are awash in doublespeak. We don’t quite hear “war is peace” but we do certainly hear “we assure peace through military strength.” So much so, that many people who call themselves progressive agree with that statement. Of course the only thing we assure with military strength is… military strength.
“Right to Work” is another one of those un-examined examples of doublespeak. “Right to Work” laws are supposedly meant to prevent “forced unionization” – that is, an employee “gets to choose” whether or not to join a union. But what does this mean, really? It means a weakening of unions, and when unions are weak, there are always fewer jobs at lower wages. Hmmm, really? “Right to Work?”
We live in a soup of doublespeak, and it’s not only in politics and government. It’s in everyday life. We hear it in advertising constantly (heard the “clean coal” commercial?) And we get so used to it, that it doesn’t really bring us up short when someone uses it. We are inured to it. And therein lies the problem. Every time we hear something that is doublespeak, it should surprise us, even shock us, but does it? News media should call it out for what it is, and we should demand that people use real, plain language for something like “Right to Work” laws. What would that language be? “Union Weakening laws?” And, even if I was being generous, “Employee Union Choice laws”? But we all really know what this is about. Maximizing profit by minimizing labor costs. So they really should be “Labor Cost Minimization laws.” That’s plainspeak.