In Michigan's battle over union rights, it's almost over but the shouting. Yesterday, in a matter of hours, Republican Governor Rick Snyder and both chambers of the Republican-controlled legislature managed to jam through bills that ban union shops. Final passage hasn't happened yet, but there's not much standing in the way.
The so-called Right to Work law makes it so that you don't have to pay union dues, basically, even though you benefit from union employment. Right to Work decimates union membership; what follows is lower wages.
The UAW's Women's Emergency Brigade.
That this happened in Michigan of all places, cradle of the modern labor movement, is stunning. Why the hurry? The New York Times today picks up on one reason: Republicans lost seats in the last election, and yesterday's House vote was close enough to suggest that they might have had trouble passing it when the new session starts next year.
I think it's worth considering for a moment the far deeper roots here. The United Auto Workers union was born in a courageous 44-day sitdown strike in Flint, back in the winter of 1936 and 1937.
Geraldine Blankship tells MLive that before workers stood up for themselves, her father came home too tired to eat supper:
"It was just one hard struggle and when the strike was on, we worried for my dad's life for a long time," she said. "He was beat up by the company goons. We didn't know if they were going to send him home in a box."
But with help from their families, the Flint sitdown strikers stuck it and won recognition from General Motors as a bargaining unit. Blankinship's son worked there for more than 30 years, happily. When people say strong unions created the middle class, that's what they're talking about.
In getting rid of strong unions, Republicans crafted the legislation to contain spending provisions, so it's technically appropriations legislation and can't be repealed by citizen veto. Our guest last night on the show, Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio, says he has heard talk of drives to pass new referendums that would reinstate the rights, and also of attempts to recall some of the officials involved.