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Mitch Daniels' State of the Union Response Shows GOP Priority: Beating Up on Workers

Daniels’ response was the first to be delivered from a building surrounded by dozens of police cars and chanting activists, protesting his latest anti-union move.

Last night’s State of the Union response by Mitch Daniels was remarkable before he uttered a single word.  Daniels’ response was the first to be delivered from a building surrounded by dozens of police cars and chanting activists, by a man on the cusp of delivering a body blow to workers’ rights.  “We were surprised, frankly,” says Jeff Harris of the Indiana AFL-CIO, “that the Republicans would choose somebody who is in open war with his constituents and his citizens and put him up as the national speaker for the Republican Party.”  For anyone who thought that progressive victories in Wisconsin and Ohio would lead the national Republican party to tone down the union-bashing, last night was a rude awakening.

Harris, the federation’s Communications Director, says Daniels “has done a phenomenal job of coming off as an average Hoosier, where he rolls around in an RV and wears a flannel shirt, but underneath, he has sold off our resources, he has privatized our welfare system…He is in the midst of busting unions and taking away our right to collectively bargain by making Right to Work his number one legislative priority.”

 “Right to Work” is the deceptive title for a right-wing law attacking unions’ ability to wield power and stay solvent.  Every remaining GOP presidential candidate has endorsed it, but none of them has pulled off what Daniels may be about to: making this 1% bill a statewide law.  

Over the past month, Daniels has been leading the latest assault on workers’ rights in Indiana.  His push has instigated near-daily protests by thousands of Hoosiers, both at the capitol and in the home districts of Indiana’s part-time legislators.  That resistance, in turn, has inspired legislative boycotts by Indiana’s Democratic representatives, who’ve repeatedly – but not continuously - held “extended caucuses” for days to deny their Republican colleagues the required quorum to push through the bill.  With two weeks until Indianapolis hosts the Super Bowl, the game could become the site of even larger protests – and no one knows whether Daniels can get his signature on the bill by then.

Where other GOP governors have taken swipes at organized labor this year, they haven’t proven too popular.  Last week Wisconsinites submitted over a million signatures to force a recall of their Governor, Scott Walker, whose “budget repair” bill – passed after massive protests, a three-week occupation of the state capitol, and the flight of fourteen Assembly Democrats out of state – shredded collective bargaining for public employees.  In November, Ohio Republicans lost big in a statewide referendum on Governor John Kasich’s collective bargaining ban.  Unlike Walker and Kasich, Daniels is in his final year of office.  If he’s pursuing a future political career – be it as an anti-debt evangelist or a last-minute draftee for president – it will depend more on his popularity among GOP actiists than among Hoosiers.

But putting Daniels on national TV at the peak of his Wisconsin-style showdown is not the mark of a party backing down from high-profile union-bashing in the face of defeats.  Rather, it’s the latest sign that national Republicans are doubling down. 

What’s Wrong With “Right to Work”?

Indiana is one of over a dozen states where, since scoring big in the 2010 legislative and gubernatorial elections, Republicans hae been pushing “Right to Work.” “Right to Work” is a government intrusion into the so-called “free market” that supposedly market-happy conseratives can’t get enough of. It bans unions and companies from signing contracts that require those employees who are represented by unions to pay for the costs of that representation.