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4 July 2018

US unions facing new challenge after Supreme Court ruling

The recent decision of the US Supreme Court to uphold Donald Trump's discriminatory travel ban on travellers from five majority Muslim countries highlighted the court's now majority socially conservative, right-wing bias.

This came about because the Republicans had blocked an Obama nominee to a vacant seat and a Trump-approved judge was installed instead.

Another less publicised attack on democratic rights was the Supreme Court's decision to rule in favour of an Illinois government employee backed by front organisations supported by alt-right super-rich 'libertarians'.

Mark Janus, the Illinois employee at the centre of the case, did not originate the law suit. Instead, it started with billionaire venture capitalist and Illinois governor, Bruce Rauner.

The judgement ended the practice, enshrined in law since 1977, which allows trade unions to seek "fair fees" from non-union members who benefit from union collective bargaining agreements.

The 1977 ruling exempted non-union workers from contributing to unions' expressly political funds. But the Supreme Court in Janus v the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has now ruled that, because the appellant was a government employee, any deductions are deemed 'political'.

The intention of the groups that brought the case is to cripple union finances by allowing any public-sector employee to freeload on the backs on union members.

Union density is higher in the public sector compared to the private sector and so it will potentially weaken the unions in fighting to defend members.

Many states had already implemented such anti-union practices but now it has effectively become federal law.

However, such obstacles can be overcome as the successful illegal strike action by rank-and-file teachers in West Virginia showed earlier this year (see 'West Virginia teachers' strike victory' at, which forced major concessions over pay.

The teachers actually raised over $320,000 online for the strike fund, illustrating that wider solidarity action is possible.