Michigan is Just the Beginning

Posted on 20 December 2012

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By Dick Meister

Be alert, American workers: The passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan means serious trouble for unions and their supporters everywhere. Yet there's legitimate hope that it also could lead to a revitalized labor movement.

You can be sure the action by Michigan, long one of the country's most heavily unionized states, home of the pioneering and pace-setting United Auto Workers and iconic labor leader Walter Reuther, will inspire anti-labor forces in other states to try to enact right-to-work laws.

They aren't likely, however, to try in California, where voters rejected a right-to-work proposition in 1958 and this November rejected the viciously union-busting State Proposition 32. But union foes here as elsewhere are certain to seize on the Michigan vote, and the passage earlier this year of a right-to-work statute in Indiana, as evidence of labor weakness that they will try mightily to exploit, politically and otherwise.

They're already seeking right-to-work laws in Ohio and Wisconsin and planning other steps around the country to weaken the economic and political clout of unions and their supporters and thus weaken the basic rights and economic position of all working people.

As contradictory as it might seem, that could lead to a badly needed revitalization of labor. For it should make it unmistakably clear to unions and their supporters that there's a very serious need for a greatly stepped-up mobilization against their political and economic enemies.

True, unions lost a major campaign this year in trying to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for his attacks on the collective bargaining rights of public employees. But that should not dissuade labor from waging other efforts against union opponents. They came close to recalling Walker and, in doing so, laid the groundwork for future campaigns and proved that unions are quite capable of waging major campaigns against their opponents. That surely discouraged at least some others from taking anti-labor actions that would anger labor and its powerful supporters.

Notably impressive as well was labor's role in helping elect - and re-elect - President Obama. Labor opponents and supporters alike learned from that, if they didn't already know it, that unions have the money and the manpower to mount major campaigns. They put millions of dollars and millions of campaign workers into their extraordinary efforts on Obama's behalf.

Obama has responded by appointing a pro-union secretary of labor, Hilda Solis, and other pro-labor men and women to run the Labor Department, plus issuing executive orders that have strengthened the rights and legal protections of working Americans.

But unions are of course doing less well in Michigan and most other states, and that's being reflected in Congress, where labor has had a rough time getting approval of national measures such as a higher minimum wage.

Most importantly, labor has been unable to garner the votes for passage of the Fair Employee Free Choice Act that has long topped labor's political agenda. The act, which has been stalled in Congress for three years, would give workers the absolute right to unionization by making it easier for them to form and join unions.

Also high on labor's agenda is the pressing need to modify the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. It has allowed states to enact right-to-work laws, even though the laws, now in Michigan and 23 other states, are clearly designed to weaken - if not destroy - unions by denying them the right to collect the money from members that is essential to effectively represent them in bargaining.

Dick Meister is a San Francisco-based columnist who has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century as a reporter, editor, author and commentator. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.

I see your pro extortionist which are unions today. they use prop 32 to desieve the populis and since the labor force is becoming more unionisied they have the power and the money to use arm twisting tactics. Well states are waking up as more and more will be filing bankruptcy as well as california cities will find out soon..Shame on you, public unions are not even constitutional Thought you as a police officer or any government worker owe your alligence to the tax payer not unions..hmmm I say wake up before your city will be next.

Labor wasted time and money supporting Obama. He would have won without labors support. Having gained nothing from labor, Obama owes nothing to labor.

Obama had two years with a super-majority in Congress. The Employee Free Choice Act did NOT get passed. The Taft-Hartley law did not get removed.

Only the Green Party to a strong stand on both of those issues. Labor was afraid to support the Green Party for fear of losing what little support they might gain from the Democrats.

If you are in private business and compete in the marketplace, having a union is the "kiss of death." Look at those industries that are heavily unioneized. They are all in declining industries. Steel making, it is going overseas. The automobile industry, who can afford $56/hr labor in the US? It would be much more downsized if Obama hadn't given $45 billion of US taxpayer money to the industry/unions. but, over time, that won't matter.

Why? Partly it is the cost of unionized labor. But, it also the work rules. The constant bueracratic infighting that a union brings to a job. Having both been in unions and management, I can tell you that most experts will tell you that having a union cuts your productivity by 50%. Having worked in union companies, I can beleive that.

No public unions shoud be allowed, because of conflict of interest: unions support pols, who in turn, favor them with tax-funded high salaries and benefits that private unions can't negoitate.

Likewise, businesses support certain (Republican) candidates, who in turn, funnel tax-payer money to their companies. Businesses must be banned from all political donations.