How the Bitter Losers of 2012 Rammed Through a Union-Destroying Bill in Michigan
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The lightning-quick adoption of union-busting ‘right-to-work’ legislation in Michigan this week by an outgoing, lame-duck Legislature was a political coup led by vengeful Republicans as payback for their corporate patrons, including the billionaire oil baron Koch brothers and their front group, Americans for Prosperity.
There is no other way to interpret the events of the past few days other than to see it in the starkest of Hobbesian terms: while the state’s GOP still held legislative power, it enacted a bill to undermine the fundraising ability of organized labor—an obsession among right-wingers dating to the 1940s South, when states enacted similar laws to prevent organized labor from helping civil rights activists.
The package of three bills introduced late last week and quickly passed and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder makes it illegal for employers and unions to negotiate contracts that require non union-members to pay a fair share of the costs of the union's representation. About 17 percent of Michigan’s workforce is affiliated with a union.
Fast-forward to 2012 and the apparently stalled fiscal-cliff talks in Washington—where GOP House Speaker John Boehner cannot satisfy the Right in another lame duck body—and what emerges is a political landscape as bitter as the worst moments of the 2012 campaign.
Indeed, the outcome of the 2012 elections—nationally and in Michigan, where the GOP resoundingly lost—was irrelevant to those still in power in Michigan. That is why the ram-rodding of the union-busting legislation is a political coup, achieving by fiat what could not pass muster at the voting booth.
Let’s go through these points in more detail to better understand what’s happened.
1. A Bitter Swipe By 2012’s Losers
Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in Michigan by about 10 percent of the vote—almost a half-million voters—despite millions spent by the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity and other pro-corporate political front groups. Republicans also lost seats in their Legislature, which will take affect in January when new lawmakers are sworn in.
The Democratic gains in large measure depended on the get-out-the-vote efforts by the state’s labor unions, which, as was the case in other Midwestern states, were less visible than the GOP’s front groups that mostly spent millions on TV advertising. The unions' role in the ground game—identifying and registering voters, knocking on doors and making phone calls, and finally getting people to the polls on November 6—was a striking reminder that organizer labor remained a potent grassroots political force.
Thus, Gov. Snyder’s surprise announcement last week that he was reversing his former position that he would not pursue ‘right-to-work’ legislation was a political declaration of war against opponents who had beaten the GOP fair and square on the electoral field.
2. Right To Work’s Southern Segregationist Roots.
As PRWatch’s Lisa Graves points out in this analysis, the Orwellian-named right-to-work (RTW) laws first emerged in the post-World War II years in southern states that wanted to thwart the civil rights gains made by returning African-American soldiers and labor unions during the war. Twenty states passed RTW laws in the following decades, including many that saw the laws as a tactic to stop unions from helping civil rights organizers.
In the past 25 years before Michigan's coup, only three states have adopted RTW laws: Idaho in 1995; Oklahoma in 2001; and Indiana in 2012. Indeed, as PRWatch points out, the “2012 presidential election map of ‘red’ states looks strikingly close to the RTW map. But the vast majority of ‘blue’ states, like Michigan, have not embraced” the union-busting reform.
3. Championed by 21st Century Corporatists