FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Losing Michigan

by DAVID MACARAY

When you examine the history of organized labor—the birth, growth, trajectory—you have to be shocked and mortified by what just happened to the great state of Michigan.  They went from being one of the strongest, most celebrated union bastions in the country (the UAW was formed in 1935, the same year the Wagner Act became law) to becoming the 24th right-to-work state.

For those unfamiliar with what a “right-to-work” (I hate that godawful slogan) state is, it’s a state where you don’t have to join the union or pay union dues as a condition of employment.  By contrast, a union shop (or, in some configurations, an “agency shop”) is a facility where you are required to become a union member as soon as you hire in.

In the wake of this Michigan debacle, the media have been referring to union shops as “closed shops,” which is incorrect.  The closed shop (which required that new employees already belonged to a union, any union, even before being hired in) has been illegal for decades.  It was outlawed by the Taft-Hartley Act (1947).

One of the horrendously unfair things about a right-to-work state is that it allows non-union employees to get a free ride.  As everyone knows, union wages and benefits are, across-the-board, roughly 15-percent better than non-union wages and benefits.  Plus, union facilities, by and large, have better safety records than non-union facilities.  That’s because safety rules and department safety committees are written into union contracts.

Incredibly, employees who work in a union facility within a right-to-work state, but who selfishly refuse to join the union, still get to enjoy the valuable perks of a union contract.  It’s true.  They get to work in a clean, safe environment, and they get to enjoy those 15-percent higher wages and those 15-percent better benefits that the union bargaining board sweated blood to negotiate for them.  They get to wallow in all these benefits despite not having the integrity or moral courage to join the union.

Not only that, but these people get to file grievances, just like regular union members, which seems utterly ridiculous.  It’s like an atheist going to the Catholic Church and demanding to be canonized.  In fact, the only things these freeloaders give up is not being allowed to run for union office or vote in union elections.  Big whoop-dee-do.  How many union members run for office anyway?

What should labor’s response be to the Michigan reversal?  Should we react hysterically?  Should we treat this unfortunate but isolated event as a precursor to the inevitable apocalypse that awaits us?  Or should we take a deep breath and calmly assess the actual damage?  My personal suggestion is that we react hysterically.

This Michigan deal is bad.  It could prove to be as big a blow to organized labor as Ronald Reagan’s 1981 firing of the air-traffic controllers.  Let’s not forget that, corny as it sounds, perception is everything, and when Reagan fired those PATCO guys, he single-handedly altered the perception of union strength in America.

By firing en masse the entire air-traffic union, Reagan changed everything.  He showed America’s corporations that when you have the guts and confidence to stand up to union leadership, you have a good chance of winning.  Indeed, that was Reagan’s legacy on how to handle organized labor.  You attack it.  And we all know what happened to the economic landscape as a result of that change in perception..

The same could be true of the Michigan fallout.  If union-heavy Michigan could metastasize into a right-to-work state, it means that every single state in the union could, hypothetically, do the same.  All they would need is a Republican state assembly, a Republican state senate, and a Republican governor willing to sign the bill.

There’s a lesson here, and it’s one the ideologues will find hard to accept.  That lesson is to vote Democrat.  Say what you will about the Democratic Party being the “lesser of two evils,” of it being wishy-washy, of it being gutless, of there being “no real difference” between the two parties, etc.  All of that, within obvious limits, is absolutely true.

But the rhetoric doesn’t change the political realties.  Question:  How many states with Democratic assemblies, Democratic senates, and Democratic governors have ever voted to become right-to-work states?  Answer:  None.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd Edition), was a former union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Rivera Sun
Blind Slogans and Shallow Greatness
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail