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How the Bitter Losers of 2012 Rammed Through a Union-Destroying Bill in Michigan

It's a political declaration of war against opponents who had beaten the GOP fair and square on the electoral field.

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It’s no mystery where Michigan’s RTW legislation came from. The aggressively pro-corporate American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, is a policy clearinghouse that recruits newly elected state legislators and meets with them (and long-standing members) and corporate sponsors in private to draft ‘model’ legislation that can be introduced at a moment’s notice in state legislative chambers.

The Center for Media and Democracy has reported that “key provisions of the Michigan RTW bills (for instance, HB 4054) are taken almost verbatim from the ALEC template,” reported its December 11 analysis. “That agenda is part of a corporate wish list of Charles and David Koch, the oil billionaires who have spent millions trying to popularize extremist ideas and move them from the fringes into binding law.”

The Koch Brothers have been pushing anti-union legislation for decades—ever since the passel of mostly southern states stopped passing RTW legislation in the 1980s. One of their former groups, Citizens For A Sound Economy, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, pushed for international trade agreements in the 1980s that forced American labor unions to lower their standards to meet those of overseas trading partners.

Their 21st century front group, Americans for Prosperity, played a leading role in the Wisconsin battles in 2011 and 2012 to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights (with the notable exception of police and firefighters—as their unions tend to support GOP candidates). Those battles led to the unsuccessful campaign to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other top GOP lawmakers. Tellingly, Michigan’s package of RTW legislation also exempts pro-GOP police and firefighter unions.

4. A Political Coup In Plain Daylight

Perhaps the most important point about what just happened in Michigan is that is an authoritarian power grab by partisans who are completely dismissive of the electorate—as expressed in the Democratic electoral victories one month ago—and are willing to wield power in a take-no-prisoners fashion akin to recent Third World coups.

The power dynamic that just unfolded resembles the arrest and dismissal of Mali’s prime minister by a military junta—which also happened this week—or the recent presidential decrees in Egypt that placed that county’s new president above the rule of law. These power grabs happened because those enacting them could get away with it—at least temporarily.

It’s very telling that such political abuses of power come before newly elected legislators are poised to take office—in what’s known as ‘lame-duck’ legislative sessions. Perhaps the thinking of these outgoing legislators is that they have nothing to lose by striking at foes in a manner that they could not achieve at the ballot box.

That viewpoint also seems to be very much at play in Congress right now, as well, where right-wingers are ignoring the results of the 2012 presidential election and pushing for another long-held corporatist agenda item: dismantling safety net retirement programs.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

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