FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Labor’s Big Test

by MARK VORPAHL

For some time now, Labor has been punched into a corner when it comes to state legislation. Over the last two years legislation has been passed in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan that has attempted to gut largely public workers of their union rights.

In addition, right to work laws now exist in 23 states. These are big business’s biggest legislative weapon because they prevent Labor from bargaining contracts that require dues paying union membership for all employees at a work place. Without a united work force financially contributing to the resources of a union to defend its membership’s interests, it is left with a shoestring budget and a membership divided between dues payers and free loaders. This has resulted in a 9.4 percent decline for both organized and unorganized workers’ wages as well as declining safety and health conditions.
Union leaders have been looking for ways to put a halt to this onslaught. One example is Proposal 2, “Protect Our Jobs,” in Michigan that could become a model for future efforts nation wide.

This proposal would amend the state constitution to grant the right of public and private employees to organize and bargain collectively through labor unions. It would create a block to much of the anti-union laws that have been enacted over the last two years as well as right to work legislation. In addition, it could override current state laws that limit the ability of workers to join unions, bargain collectively, enforce collective bargaining agreements, as well as defend hours and conditions of employment from state laws that conflict with union contracts. (1)

Opponents include the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and other business groups as well as Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette. They claim that Proposal 2 would make union leaders more powerful than elected leaders, roll back dozens of laws, and hurt their ability to get budgets under control.

Considering that Gov. Rick Synder has appointed emergency managers over several cities that have the power to gut union contracts, the charge that union leaders are making a grab for power is the same line of reasoning of any boss threatened by his subordinates when they stand up for themselves. What is bothering the opponents of Proposal 2 is that it would strengthen Labor’s defensive position against their attacks. They want a free hand in their attempts to make workers pay for the economic crisis rather than their rich contributors who are getting massive tax breaks and hoarding trillions of dollars while social programs are being slashed.

The campaign for a “yes” vote is being lead by a union/community coalition called “Protect Our Jobs.” They turned in 684,286 signatures to get it on the ballot. Only 322,609 were necessary.

Anyone who cares about workers having a voice on the job and being able to defend citizens’ interests in education, as well as public safety and services, should vote yes.

If Proposal 2 passes, it will be a victory for all Michigan workers with likely national ramifications. Eighteen states permit their constitutions to be amended through referendums. Twenty-one states allow for public votes on proposed laws. A victory for Proposal 2 would encourage unions to bypass corporate politicians and take similar legislation to the voters instead.

With 18 percent of its workforce in unions, compared to the national average of 12.1 percent, Michigan would appear to be an ideal state to launch a national campaign to protect collective bargaining. So far, however, the polls are close with 48 percent for the proposal, 43 percent opposed, and 9 percent undecided.

Why is this? Many workers do not understand what collective bargaining is and how they benefit from it even if they are not union members. They do know, on the other hand, that they need jobs, better wages and benefits, universal healthcare, improved education, and strengthened public services. If Labor were acting as a social movement and launching an independent campaign for these needs, the passage of Proposal 2 would be a more simple matter. Non-union workers would see that Labor was putting up a fight for all workers’ interests against the greed of big business and would, therefore, understand from their own experience, where to stand.

Instead the unions have, for the most part, put their resources behind getting Democrat Party politicians elected even though this party shares equal responsibility with the Republicans in presiding over workers’ declining standard of living and rights. In addition, they push cuts only budgets to Medicare, Medicaid, likely Social Security, as well as other needed public services while rewarding the corporations with trillions in bailouts, loans, and tax breaks. Consequently, for too many workers, unions are viewed as just another “special interest” lobbying machine. By focusing exclusively on collective bargaining in the vacuum of a greater social fight back, Proposal 2 leaves itself open to the judgment that Labor’s leaders are more concerned with their own positions rather than fighting to improve the conditions for all workers.

Unions also need to be willing to boldly defend their membership’s interests rather than start from a position of making concessions to the employers as is usually done these days. Unfortunately, Proposal 2 is not free from this losing approach. It states “Laws may be enacted that prohibit public employees from striking.” Why agree to disarm public employees from using their most powerful weapon? Any General who agreed to such a tactic before going into battle would rightfully be judged as incompetent. It appears that the purpose of this concession is to avoid upsetting Democrat Party politicians whose influence over the unions’ leadership is Labor’s Achilles heel.

In spite of this significant shortcoming, a victory for Proposal 2 would be an important step forward for Labor. Would it mean that the unions were turning around the one-sided class war of big business? Its victory could be a contributing factor. However, in order to reverse the direction in this country, Labor must be willing to fight for all workers’ interests with mass demonstrations and strikes over issues that effect us all against the corporate interests that dominate the Democrat and Republican Parties.

1.) Michigan “Protect Our Jobs” Amendment, Proposal 2 (2012)

Mark Vorpahl is an union steward, social justice activist, and writer for Workers’ Action – www.workerscompass.org. He can be reached at portland@workerscompass.org.

Mark Vorpahl is a union steward, social justice activist and a writer for Workers Action and Occupy.com. He can be reached at Portland@workerscompass.org.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians to the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
Rivera Sun
Accountability: An Abandoned American Value
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
Robert Koehler
The Heart of Order
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
August 25, 2016
Mike Whitney
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
The Louisiana Catastrophe Proves the Need for Universal, Single-Payer Disaster Insurance
John W. Whitehead
Another Brick in the Wall: Children of the American Police State
Lewis Evans
Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana
Daniel Kovalik
Colombia: Peace in the Shadow of the Death Squads
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail