Union Members Protest at Vote on Michigan Labor Law

Posted: December 13, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Wonky

In Midwest Union Fights, Michigan Shows 2010 Election Still Trumps 2012

December 12, 2012 5:12 PM

Silent protesters Wednesday in Lansing, Mich., wear tape with messages that signify wages they say they could lose because of the state’s new right-to-work law.

Paul Sancya/AP

No one can argue the setback to organized labor served up by Michigan’s new law, which bars unions from requiring workers to pay dues even if they don’t join their workplace bargaining unit.

Tuesday’s passage of “right to work” legislation in a state dominated by the auto industry and the historically powerful United Auto Workers was a surprising “smack in the face” to unions, says labor expert Lee Adler, especially given President Obama’s nearly 10-point win in the state last month.

The action by the GOP-controlled Legislature in a post-election lame-duck session is the surest sign yet, Adler says, of how losses suffered by more union-friendly Democrats two years ago in key statehouse races continue to reverberate.

“The November election did not solve the losses suffered in 2010,” says Adler, of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the author of books on organized labor’s history and future.

Those losses, he says, mean that the GOP still has the ability in key states — especially above the Mason-Dixon Line — to hobble unions.

The Future Of Unions?

We turned to Adler for some perspective on where unions go now, given the political realities in Michigan — which on Tuesday became the 24th state to enact right-to-work rules — and where less than 20 percent of the workforce now belongs to unions.

Some quick background: After Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican elected in 2010, signed the bill into law Tuesday, he characterized it not as anti-union but “about more and better jobs for Michiganders.”

The measure will go into effect 90 days after the state ends its current legislative session. Prohibition of mandatory union dues will be phased in as union contracts expire and new deals are struck.

Snyder, who insisted that he believes in collective bargaining, arguing that the new law will simply force unions to present a stronger case to attract and keep dues-paying members, says he foresees challenges to the law. “I would expect litigation,” he told reporters.

In the meantime, Adler has some advice — and caution — for future union efforts.

Union responses need to be confrontational to be effective, he says, but that doesn’t mean staging daily protests at the statehouse like those organized by the unions in Wisconsin after GOP Gov. Scott Walker pushed through legislation early in 2011 that largely stripped that state’s public unions of collective bargaining rights.

“They can do the traditional thing, and have public protests about it,” Adler says, “but that doesn’t mean anything, as we saw in Wisconsin.”

“They have to think of some more creative approaches, to explain why it matters to people beyond those who are in trade unions,” he said. “This is a major frontal attack on the labor unions in Michigan, and there has to be a continuing vigilance, pressure, and a strategy of constructive obstruction.”

Comparing Wisconsin, Ohio And Michigan

The most effective strategy for unions, he argues? “Make the case along class lines,” he says, though without setting up the Koch brothers, for example, as specific target.

The wealthy Koches have helped bankroll right-to-work efforts nationally, as well as other anti-union measures in Wisconsin and beyond.

“It’s more important to develop a strategy where unions can talk to other working people who aren’t in unions — women, minorities, immigrants — and show that they’re in this together,” he said. “Unions’ success will come from that, and not from a boogeyman.”

The examples of Wisconsin, where efforts to recall Walker failed in June, and of Ohio, where voters statewide in 2011 turned back a GOP effort to limit public union collective bargaining, may provide little in the way of a road map.

Union efforts in Wisconsin were unsuccessful. And, unlike in Ohio, voters in Michigan will not get to weigh in on the right-to-work legislation because it is attached to a spending bill.

“I think the electorate in Wisconsin just got tired of undoing elections,” Adler says, referring to the doctrine of permanent revolution and its wearying effect. “In Ohio, they targeted a law, and organized around that law, which was much more effective.”

Big Loss For The Democratic Party

A number of factors diminish the meaning of the Wisconsin and Ohio experiences, in the context of Michigan, he says.

What happened in Michigan, given the movement of the electorate, is a “recognizable political contradiction,” Adler says.

Contradiction or not, Michigan this week provided more shock treatment for organized labor and, by extension, the Democratic Party.

Some perspective: The United Auto Workers, described by the Center for Responsive Politics as “a strong financial supporter of Democrats,” in the 2012 election cycle contributed more than $11 million to political action committees, parties, outside spending groups and candidates. That included more than $138,000 directly to Obama’s campaign.

The UAW ranks 14th out of 20,484 campaign contributors traced by the center, qualifying it for “heavy hitter” status.

The work of the people of God is to prepare for the events of the future, which will soon come upon them with blinding force. In the world gigantic monopolies will be formed. Men will bind themselves together in unions that will wrap them in the folds of the enemy. A few men will combine to grasp all the means to be obtained in certain lines of business. Trades unions will be formed, and those who refuse to join these unions will be marked men.–Letter 26, 1903.  {CL 10.3}

Cast out of heaven, Satan set up his kingdom in this world, and ever since he has been untiringly striving to seduce human beings from their allegiance to God. He uses the same power that he used in heaven–the influence of mind on mind. Men become tempters of their fellowmen. The strong, corrupting sentiments of Satan are cherished, and they exert a masterly, compelling power. Under the influence of these sentiments, men bind up with one another in confederacies, in trade unions, and in secret societies. There are at work in the world agencies that God will not much longer tolerate.–Lt 114, 1903.  {1MCP 28.3}  

The time is fast coming when the controlling power of the labor unions will be very oppressive. Again and again the Lord has instructed that our people are to take their families away from the cities, into the country, where they can raise their own provisions; for in the future the problem of buying and selling will be a very serious one. We should now begin to heed the instruction given us over and over again: Get out of the cities into rural districts, where the houses are not crowded closely together, and where you will be free from the interference of enemies.–Letter 5, 1904.  

These unions are one of the signs of the last days. Men are binding up in bundles ready to be burned. They may be church members, but while they belong to these unions, they cannot possibly keep the commandments of God; for to belong to these unions means to disregard the entire Decalogue.  Letter 26, 1903.

“The hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord.” “Be … patient … for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” James 5:4, 8.

Trouble between capital and labor is predicted for the last days. For fulfillment, consult your newspaper.

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