Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Right to Work" comes to Michigan, the State the Unions Built

Last week Michigan's Republican-majority legislature, with no committee meetings, no floor debate, in a rush to get this done before January when their control lessens, voted to add my beautiful state to a growing number of states--23 of them so far--that have been downgraded to what some have been led to believe is an assurance of a "Right-to-Work".
Anyone coming from another country would think, reading that, that it could only be a good thing.  Everybody should have the right to work, after all, and what kind of crazy country needs to legislate that?
But, as usual, the proponents have chosen a reasonable-sounding misnomer in order to cover the cruelty behind their crass actions.

What it really means is that everybody in my state will, in fact, have the right to work (as does everyone of working age on the planet), but any other right--even those that others before them have fought long and hard for--equitable wages, benefits, pensions, work-place safety, grievance representation--will be left outside the door.  Those rights will no longer be rights unless the employer says they are.

State Right-to-Work laws (known as "right-to-work-for-less laws" in our circles) give approval to open shops, where union participation and the collection of union dues is voluntary, not compulsory--a simple step geared to defund and thus defang union activity.

To workers who have been convinced that the company will take care of them, who see progress in not having to pay union dues, who encourage Right-to-Work laws because it's not fair that union members make more money than they do, what is happening in Michigan and the 23 other states is a liberation of sorts.  To others (like me) it's more like tumbling downhill after years of working our way up the mountain.

The people proposing Michigan's move to Right-to-Work understand that money is power--and why wouldn't they?  Millions of Big Money dollars went into the campaign to make this happen. There's a reason these people hate unions.  Unions attempt to give a portion of power to the working class by way of equitable wages and fairness in the workplace.  All of that, of course, costs employers more money, which, if you follow their logic, is a really mean thing for their ungrateful worker-bees to try to do.

The truth is, few businesses are one-person operations.  Employers need employees, and employees have a right to expect to be paid well for their efforts.  The truth is, wages and benefits have stagnated in this country since the 1970s, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who would argue that it coincided with the drastic drop in union activity.

The truth is, workers need representation and the ability to collectively bargain for wages, benefits and workplace rights.

The truth is, we are stronger as a country when workplaces are seen as a shared venture, with everyone profiting.  (Sometimes, it's true, the ones at the top have to be dragged into that argument, but the end result is always the same:  When everybody profits, the country profits.)

So let's look at what others are saying about this:

Media Matters looks at the myths the Wall Street Journal is pushing about Right-to-Work.

Chris Savage at Eclectablog, the go-to blog for understanding Michigan political shenanigans, guest-posts about RTW on the AFL-CIO website

Stephen Henderson,  Detroit Free Press Editorial Page editor, says, "Do the Math". it never works.

Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) speaks out against the RTW bill, calling it "the freedom to freeload"   (FYI: Grand Rapids is the grand bastion of conservatism in our state.  We like it when Dems are represented there.)

Union activist Jamie Sanderson, from Georgetown, SC, looks at Michigan's RTW battle through other eyes.

Andy Kroll at Mother Jones weighs in, calling it a "Scott Walker showdown", after the Wisconsin governor's efforts to kill public unions in that state.

And finally, Kenneth Quinnell over at the AFL-CIO blog exposes the Koch Brothers connection with the flurry of the "right to work for less" laws in Michigan and other Republican-led states. 

This battle isn't over.   

I know.  We say that all the time. Well, here it is again.

As long as there are people left to fight, battles are never over, and this one, the battle for worker rights in Michigan, the birthplace of the modern union movement, is a landmark battle worth fighting.  Big money is prepared to fight us to the end.  They want to win.  They think they will win.  But they've underestimated us before, and the truth is, it didn't hurt them in the least when workers won.

We didn't become a great country by caving to big interests.  We became a great country by working together to build a strong and expanding middle class.  And we did it because we recognized the value and worth of laborers.

And when we didn't any longer, the truth is, our great country declined.

(Cross-posted at dagblog)


  1. My great grand uncle was one of the original sit down strikers in Flint, Mi and after they unionized spent countless hours going to other towns and businesses on his own free time helping others unionize-before this time, they had no 40 hour workweek, no benefits, vacation pay, safe work places, etc.

    Despite getting shot in the leg by the police during the strike he never thought about giving up the fight - he would tell my grandmother about how he would take the bus to the gates every day and see if he was picked to work that day or not, and if he got hurt, someone else would take his place and he had no recourse and the family would have starved.

    People forget and take for granted the 40 hour workweek, vacation pay, benefits, a safe work environment, etc. - this all came from workers having enough and unionizing to make it a level playing field for all of us. I bet my great grand uncle is rolling in his grave knowing Snyder is stripping everything he worked so hard for away without our say so.

  2. Mr. Mischief, my father-in-law was involved in the Flint sit-in, too. Those men made great sacrifices to get us to where we were when the unions, and thus the middle class, were strongest. Union families lived in fear of strikes and lay-offs, but there were no scabs in my family or my husband's. They would have died first.

    We don't have that kind of loyalty any more. This generation does take it as gospel that the unions had their day and now they're done. How sad. If we could just unionize more people our power would rise and so would the economy. But as much as unions are desperately needed now, the crazy truth is that the people who could use them the most are turning their backs on them. Wish I knew what to do about that.

  3. Seems the lessons of the past need to be re-learned.

    1. The new generations have a history of discounting the lessons of the past--until it's too late. Then they're very good at lamenting. (How did this happen?? Who knew??)

  4. Great post as always, Mona. George Orwell must be rolling over in his grave at the linguistic torture. "Right to Work" my ass.

    Linda Tilsen
    Jackson, MO

    1. Exactly, Linda. They know their stuff. (Probably read Orwell, too) Who would not want "Right to Work"? It's like the Clean Air Act and No Children Left Behind.


    2. I mean "No Child Left Behind". Same thing, I guess. . .

  5. This is beyond sad for me to read. My Dad took part in that Sit-Down Strike and many others, I might add, just so he could work and support his family. When my Dad retired after 48 years, his total time off work for less than a week and part of that was being hospitalized with pneumonia. He retired and had a home and had health insurance and not only did he prosper; but the company prospered out there. The paradigm has changed and Big Business/Corporations have turned an issue by glib banners that read to the excess of government that are taking away their freedoms. To be sure, this generation will learn that. It is one thing to like the concept of RTW and quite another to live with it in the market place of jobs. They don't know what they are doing and to undo all of this will be difficult because it will take them some time before they are aware that low hourly wage, no benefits, no health care, no Social Security and Medicare are now the norm; it is the return of the Gilded Age when and how the Wealthy Rule to the detriment of the American people. The American people are being robbed by the wealthy and their message is so mis-leading, that the repercussions from this will not be seen for some time. I am surprised that the people of Michigan allowed this to happen, some pretty slick politicians promising more than they will ever receive. My father must be turning over in his grave many times for this one, he was so proud to be a Union member. Proud...

  6. Michigan is a different place now, sadly. We're not much of a manufacturing state anymore and a lot of the workers don't feel any kind of loyalty for the unions. They're too young to remember the sacrifices of the early union members and they aren't interested in learning the history, as fascinating and energizing as it would be.

    You would think their puny wages would make them sit up and listen but they prefer to be lap dogs for the company men--the ones they think will make them rich if they just sit up and beg.

    It's pretty disgusting and more than a little frustrating.


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