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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 Ramona's Voices)