There are hot wars, and there are cold wars. There are good wars (the War on Poverty), unwise wars (the War on Drugs), unnecessary wars (Iraq) and endless wars (the Middle East). There are phony wars (the War against Christmas) and wars of attrition (the embargo of Cuba).
Another kind of war is being waged these days in America’s heartland — the War against Labor Unions. It doesn’t use guns or rockets to achieve its victories; the levers of government and the so-called democratic process are its weapons of choice. Its legions are unarmed; in fact, most of them wear expensive suits. Its terrain is not the jungle or desert, but rather the great halls and back rooms of state capitals throughout the Midwest.
The New Battlefield: Michigan
At the moment, the War against Labor Unions is flaring up in Michigan. Rick Snyder, its Republican governor, has just signed legislation passed by the Republican-led Legislature, making the state, a traditional bastion of organized labor in America, the nation’s 24th with “right-to-work” laws governing the relationship between unions and their employers, both private and public.
In a right-to-work state, unions are prohibited from requiring mandatory membership dues from workers as a condition of employment. Proponents of right-to-work laws contend that no worker should be coerced into joining a labor union in order to get a job. Opponents counter with the argument that since, in a union shop, all workers are covered under the same collective bargaining agreement, every worker should be required to pay his or her “fair share” fee for the protections that the union-negotiated contract affords.
Of course, the phrase “right-to-work” itself is a cynical example of language obfuscation. Labor unions are not interested in limiting anyone’s “right to work,” to have a job, to make a living; they simply want to prevent some workers from freeloading on the backs of others by getting benefits they decline to pay for.
And “right”-to-work supporters are not really that concerned with the constitutional “rights” of workers; they are much more focused on using right-to-work statutes as a way to weaken union membership and clout, thus giving employers a greater edge in the age-old struggle between management and labor. One only need follow the money – the funding for many of these anti-union campaigns comes from wealthy corporate interests.
President Obama nailed it when he commented about the situation in Michigan: “You know, these so-called right-to-work laws, they don’t have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”
Someone to Blame
But why are these legislative battles against rank and file, working men and women – teachers, nurses, firefighters, social workers, factory hands, garbage truck drivers, etc. — breaking out just now in places like Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and the Wolverine state?
Well, it’s no secret that, like most, these states’ budgets have been severely pummeled and squeezed over the course of the Great Recession, and politicians have had to cut many services their constituents have come to rely upon. Naturally, they need someone to blame for their diminished circumstances, and the labor unions are a tempting target; when things are tough all around and there’s a recognizable scapegoat in the vicinity, it’s generally a good time to unleash the shock troops.
But first, in order to get the public firmly on its side, anti-union warriors must promulgate a big lie, a flim-flam, a misdirection that will get the population to look at the scapegoat and not at the man behind the curtain. So, their best tactic is to convince the people that labor unions want to take from the rest of us something that doesn’t rightly belong to them.
In Wisconsin, it was government worker pension funds — Governor Walker maintained they were hemorrhaging the state treasury. In Michigan, it’s the few bucks a month from the guy who needs a job, but doesn’t want to be forced, kicking and screaming, into joining some left-leaning, anti-freedom, socialistic labor union.
The truth, of course, is that labor unions are not taking away anything that belongs to the rest of us. They never have. In fact, the stronger case can be made that, over the past century, labor unions have given us, what was until recently, the world’s highest standard of living.
Labor unions gave us the 40-hour work week, paid vacations, company-sponsored health insurance, and retirement benefits. They helped end child labor, secured safer workplaces, and fought for a minimum wage. They have won those rights and benefits for all workers, sometimes at the cost of blood.
Labor unions have given this country a legacy of fairness and equity in the marketplace. No. Labor unions have not taken away anything that belongs to the rest of us.
Want to know who has been taking away what belongs to the rest of us? The devious and dangerous players who have bilked states, cities and towns across the country for billions of dollars over the past 10 years? The cabal that’s been ripping off Michigan, and Wisconsin, and Alabama, and New Mexico, and Utah, and dozens of other governments and municipalities in America?
That answer is revealed in Part 2.