Progressive commenters reeling from the “right to work” defeat in Michigan have in turns unmasked and (grudgingly) admired proponents of the new law. The unmasking is fairly easy. Michigan governor Rick Snyder actually unmasked himself. After claiming that he was a moderate who would avoid polarizing fights, he pounced on the opportunity to jam “right to work” through a lame duck legislative session. And the policy itself is not hard to expose. “Right to work” is portrayed by proponents as freeing unwilling workers from paying union dues. But as many critics have pointed out, its wealthy proponents’ main purpose is to hobble labor by allowing some workers not to pay for the representation and protection unions are legally obligated to provide them.
As for the admiration, well, there is much to be learned from the planning and persistence of the rich donors and think tanks for whom spreading “right to work” laws beyond the former Confederacy has long been an aspiration.
(Editor’s Note: This American Prospect post appeared on the eve of last Tuesday’s Wisconsin recall vote and, as such, only anticipates events that have since occurred. Still, Harold Meyerson offers some astute insights into why that recall effort ultimately failed.)
We don’t know the outcome of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election in Wisconsin, of course, but we do know this: Even if labor somehow manages to oust Republican Governor Scott Walker, the result will be nothing like the resounding repudiation that Ohio voters delivered last year in repealing that state’s anti-collective bargaining law pushed by an equally controversial GOP governor, John Kasich.
Why the difference? Kasich’s bill went beyond Walker’s in banning collective bargaining for cops and fire fighters, which proved a decidedly unpopular position, but that can hardly account for more than a fraction of the difference. Moreover, Wisconsin is generally regarded as a more liberal state than Ohio.
The New Republic’s Richard Yeselson has a perceptive piece on that publication’s website that’s worth reading before our collective amnesia allows us to forget all about Governor Scott Walker’s recent electoral triumph.
“Not With a Bang, But a Whimper: The Long, Slow Death Spiral of America’s Labor Movement” is, as you might surmise, another in a series of post-Wisconsin election eulogies for American unions. Yet it’s much more, becoming a meditation on the place unions once occupied in the American imagination, both in politics and pop culture, and how their mention today barely elicits shrugs – even from many union members.
Yeselon likens unions to the typewriters that many writers of a certain age profess affection for but which none of us will ever return to using. “The problem isn’t that most people hate unions,” he writes. “The problem for unions is that most people don’t care about them,
File this under the We Couldn’t Have Said It Better Ourselves Department: Op-ed columnist Joe Nocera articulated on the very respectable pages of the New York Times what many of us have known for years: Unions are good for the economy. Well, no – make that, unions are essential for the economy to work for everyone. Nocera, the famously contrarian business writer, talks about his picket-line-walking parents and his union-solid Rhode Island birthplace – but how, as a member of America’s post-war educated class, he came to view organized labor “with mild disdain.”
The madeleine that stokes his remembrance of union things past is The Great Divergence, Timothy Noah’s new book about income inequality. After confessing to holding an outlook once similar to Noah’s early views of labor as “a spent force,” Nocera now agrees with him that liberals have turned their backs on unions with terrible consequences.
While hardly surprising to anyone who read the polls, yesterday’s victory by Republican Governor Scott Walker was a body blow to Wisconsin unions and to American workers. Within Wisconsin, Walker’s victory ensures that his law repealing collective-bargaining rights for public employees will stay on the books, and if Republicans maintain their hold on the state senate—four of their senators faced recall elections, and as I write this at least three have survived—they will, at least in theory, be able to go forward on other parts of their Social Darwinist agenda. Whether they will—and whether they opt to go after private-sector unions, too, with right-to-work legislation—remains unclear. Such a move on Walker’s part, coming on the heels of the most divisive 18 months in the state’s history, would only escalate what is already a political civil war. Even Walker may think it the better part of valor to pass on that for now.
But the damage already done by Walker’s anti-union legislation,