"Right To Work" without independent worker-controlled monitoring of workplace safety and social environment, any manager regardless of mental stability can conduct work-place conditions a befits the ideology of corporatist fascism, that the profit motive is more important than human rights...
2012-12-11 "Right to Work: As Goes Michigan, So Goes The Nation" by Ruth Conniff from "The Progressive"
As the world watches massive labor protests at the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, today, Wisconsinites are seeing a repeat of the struggle in Madison two years ago.
Only this time the stakes are even higher.
Republicans, the Chamber of Commerce, and a coalition of now-familiar rightwing millionaires (the Koch brothers as well as Michigan Amway heir Dick DeVos) have banded together to pass right-to-work legislation in Michigan, the birthplace of the United Autoworkers.
What does it mean if Michigan, cradle of the industrial labor movement in America, becomes a right-to-work state?
"That's the thing, isn't it?" says Jane Slaughter, the editor of Labor Notes, the Detroit-based publication that has been the voice of union activists for the last 33 years.
If Michigan passes right to work legislation, as governor Rick Snyder and the Republicans who control the state legislature have promised, "can Wisconsin be far behind?" asks Slaughter.
What about Pennsylvania, where anti-union Governor Tom Corbett has said right-to-work legislation would be too controversial to pass.
"That's exactly what our governor said," Slaughter points out.
"Are we going to be a right-to-work nation, except for New York or California?" Slaughter asks.
The scene in the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, is terribly familiar to those of us who witnessed the massive rallies in Wisconsin in 2011.
Chanting protesters are packing the rotunda, only to be pushed out by police.
A blog post on the Labor Notes web site by Alix Gould-Werth, a member of graduate employees' Local 3550 at the University of Michigan, tries to explain how Michigan came to this.
Governor Snyder, Gould-Werth suggests, learned from Wisconsin's governor Scott Walker's mistakes. Rather than make his bold attack on unions all at once, "the Michigan legislators did it piecemeal: taking away teachers’ automatic dues deductions, defining university research assistants as non-workers, and other measures that wouldn’t rile everyone at once."
In an effort that paralleled the recall effort in Wisconsin, Michigan labor activists worked hard this year on a grassroots campaign, gathering signatures for Prop 2, a ballot initiative that would have enshrined labor rights in the state constitution, protecting against the right-to-work measure.
Big money came into the state to run ads opposing the measure. And voters seemed to underestimate the real threat to labor, Gould-Werth suggests.
Prop 2 lost, 57-to-42, and one month later, Rick Snyder, who had said right-to-work was "too divisive" for Michigan, promised to sign the bill.
President Obama came to Michigan and made a strong statement against right-to-work, calling it "the right to work for less money."
But the progressive tone, nationally, on labor, contrasts sharply with what is happening on the ground.
Not only did Obama win by focusing on the auto industry rescue to beat Mitt "let Detroit go bankrupt" Romney, but progressive victories across the country delivered a stinging rebuke to the right.
But the battle at the state level goes on.
It is serious regrouping time for labor.
A comment at the bottom of Alix Gould-Werth's piece on the Labor Notes web site puts it in stark terms; "Unions did this to themselves," writes commenter NancyEJ.
Among her complaints about labor in Michigan: "No accountability to the membership. Bullshit third-world election standards. Union busting their own staff . . . Holding themselves to a different abysmal employee relations standard than they do employers. . . . Disenfranchising everyone but the toadies, advancing staff based on their ability to bootlick alone . . . "
This outraged rank-and-filer continues: "You all tolerated this leadership and did their bidding, you turned a blind eye when they wiped their fannies with the NLRA and slept like babies every night after you saw them treat the rank and file like dues cows, annoyances, parade props and tee shirt hangers. "
"You can't just keep walking around in circles, chanting empty folk song lyrics, and shaking your little fist at stuff and expect the membership and the rest of the intelligent life on the planet to just buy in to your 1960s 'vision.’ And the rest of you can't just keep whining about all unions supposedly accomplished a HALF A CENTURY ago either. 'The dinosaurs who brought you the weekend.' Cripes. It's pathetic."
Is it the unions' fault?
I asked Slaughter (whose organization has been a voice for democracy and activism, not an apologist for union leadership).
In part, she says:
Labor's faults include "continually taking concessions," and "making it clear they'd let employers walk all over them in the workplace."
"You could say that the UAW is the leading union in Michigan and is the union that led the way nationally in concessions of all kinds over the last 30 years," Slaughter adds, from labor-management participation schemes to monetary concessions to two-tier pay so that new employees make half the pay of longer term employees.
"The UAW being a pioneer in concessions certainly didn't help."
If the impending right-to-work law in Michigan shows anything, it's that what Slaughter calls the "mythology that the UAW is this 800-pound gorilla and runs politics in Michigan" is total rubbish.
It might be time for those outraged rank-and-filers to take over.
AFSME Local 120 members John Washburn (L) and Brad Sullivan, both of Sterling Heights, Michigan and part of the East Detroit Public Schools, join thousands of union members from around the state gather at the State Capitol to protest Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget cuts April 13, 2011 in Lansing, Michigan. Snyder has proposed making significant cuts to public education and taxing some retirement income while also eliminating business taxes for many companies. (Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images North America)
2012-12-10 "Right to Work Laws Violate Human Rights and Labor Law" statement of the "International Commission for Labor Rights"
WASHINGTON - December 10 - The effort in Michigan to pass “right-to-work” legislation has come to the attention of the International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR).1
December 10 is Human Rights Day around the world. On December 10, 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified. It would be a cruel irony if the Michigan government on (or about) Human Rights day were to pass legislation which abrogates the basic human rights of Michigan workers.
The right of workers to form and join trade unions to protect their interests is a universal human right recognized in both human rights and labor law and is binding on all states. Right-to-work laws prevent unions from fulfilling their duty to protect the interests of the workers. Laws aimed at weakening trade unions so as to prevent them from protecting workers interests, in ICLR’s opinion, must be considered illegal. Therefore, final passage of this legislation and/or Governor Snyder signing it abrogates basic human rights and labor law.
Consider the following:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires all governments to work towards achieving the rights stated in the Declaration.
Article 23 of the Universal Declaration states:
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself (and herself) and his (or her) family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his (or her) interests.
The right of everyone to form and join trade unions is for the purpose of protection their interests.2 The “protection of interests” language in the declaration has substantive meaning. Trade unions must be treated under law in a manner which enables people who join together in trade unions to be actually able to protect their interests, so as to achieve such rights as favorable remuneration and conditions of work and ensure an existence worthy of human dignity.
The Universal Declaration was the basis for two Human Rights treaties which provide more specifics to rights contained in the Declaration. These treaties are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In 1992 the United States ratified the ICCPR. The United States has signed but not ratified the ICESCR.3
The ICCPR at Article 22 reiterates that everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his (or her) interests. The only restrictions on the right are those which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Under the ICCPR, any restrictions on trade unions must be necessary to a democratic society etc. Necessity is a high bar. Trade Unions are one of the major building blocks of a democratic society. As such there can be no necessity for this legislation which is aimed at weakening the ability people to protect their interests by voting for a union.
The ICESCR has similar language. Article 8 (a) ensures “the right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, for the promotion and protection of his economic and social interests. The ICESCR also has that high bar for restrictions on organization of trade unions.
As human rights norms have developed, so have labor rights norms which protect the rights of unions, freedom of association and collective bargaining. In 1948 and 1949 the International Labor Organization (ILO) which was founded in 1919, issued Conventions 87 and 98 respectively. These conventions protect the right to organize and to collectively bargaining. The ICCPR and ICESCR at Article 22 (3) and Article 8 (3) integrate the provisions of ILO Convention 87, into these human rights treaties. This subsection states that no State which has ratified Convention 87 may pass legislative measures which would prejudice, or to apply the law in such a manner as to prejudice, the guarantees provided for in that Convention. Although the United States has not ratified either Conventions 87 or 98, given their universality, they should be considered binding as customary international law. In fact, in 1998 the ILO issued the Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW) which gave special status to “core labor” standard which members of the ILO were bound to observe and report progress on to the ILO regardless of ratification. Conventions 87 and 98- the rights to organize and collective bargaining-are part of the core labor standards with this special status. United States membership in the ILO requires compliance with these conventions.
Therefore, reading the ILO Convention 87 together with subsection 3 of Article 22 of the ICCPR and sub section 3 of the ICESCR, no state may be allowed to pass a law which prejudices the guarantees provided for in Convention 87. Right-to-work laws prejudice workers’ rights under Convention 87 and the above described human rights instruments.
Because they are designed to eviscerate the trade unions though which workers have a right “to protect their interests”, right-to-work laws prevent workers from exercising their fundamental human and labor rights. Therefore, in ICLR’s opinion, these laws are illegal. ICLR calls upon the Michigan Legislature and Governor to comply with human and labor rights of the workers in this State and reject the right-to-work law.
Issued: December 10, 2012
1: ICLR is network of over 300 labor lawyers, labor experts and jurists around the world who consider the rights of workers to be a fundamental element in promoting democracy and economic fairness.
2: ICLR is aware that the Taft-Hartley amendment to the National Labor Relations Act which allowed for “right to work” laws was found constitutional, in 1949 in Lincoln Federal Labor Union No 19129 et al v State of North Carolina, 335 U.S. 525 (1949). However, since then no court has addressed this section of the law in light of subsequent development of human rights and labor law as well as US treaty obligations.
3: Even though the United States has not ratified the ICESCR there are two reasons why the United States is bound by its provisions. (1) under the doctrine of pacta sunt servanda a country which has signed a treaty is bound by its provisions until such time as it is repudiated (see Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties ) and (2) At present 160 countries have ratified this Covenant such that the provisions are customary international law and binding regardless of ratification. Customary international law is that law which is so widely accepted that the law is binding on all countries. See Sarei v Rio Tinto 456 F.3d 1069 (9th Cir 2006) Where the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which was ratified by at least 149 countries was considered customary international law.
2012-12-13 "Michigan Adopts the ALEC Model for Diminishing Democracy" by John Nichols from "The Nation" weekly newsjournal
Michigan legislators did not write the so-called “right to work” legislation that they have enacted in a mad rush of anti-democratic excess.
They simply did as they were told.
The ideas, the outlines and the words themselves came from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing “bill mill” that produces “model legislation” at the behest of Koch Industries, Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, ExxonMobil and the corporate cabal that is always looking to “buy” states [http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/12/11903/michigan-passes-right-work-containing-verbatim-language-alec-model-bill].
As the Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” project [http://www.prwatch.org/projects/alec-exposed] revealed (in conjunction with The Nation), ALEC has developed binders full of “model legislation” that assaults the rights of working people, consumers and communities [http://www.thenation.com/article/161977/business-domination-inc].
ALEC’s package of “model legislation” includes numerous bills and resolutions that, by any reasonable measure, would be referred to as “no rights at work” schemes.
Those measures formed the basis for HB 4003, the Michigan “Right-to-Work Act” that has provoked mass demonstrations in Lansing and other Michigan communities.
Section after section, line after line, of the Michigan legislation mirrors the ALEC model legislation, as revealed by the “ALEC Exposed” project. “The legislation is straight out of the Koch-funded ALEC playbook,” explains Brendan Fischer, the staff counsel with the Center for Media and Democracy. At some points, the Michigan lawmakers shifted words, from “resign or refrain from…a labor organization” in the ALEC model legislation to “refrain or resign from…a labor organization” in one of the two Michigan bills.
At other points, the Michigan Republicans simply lifted whole sections verbatim, outlining how workers who get the advantage of union representation will not have “to pay any dues, fees, assessments or other charges, of any kind or amount” to a labor organization.
The willingness of legislators in Michigan and, it should be noted, other states to simply take marching orders from ALEC is troubling enough.
But even more troubling is the reason why corporations and politicians in states where the middle class was forged by organized labor agree on the “need” to advance anti-labor legislation.
This is not about economic development, growth or job creation. And it is certainly not about “freedom,” as Michigan Governor Rick Snyder claims [http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2012/12/11/gov-snyder-right-to-work-will-pass-give-workers-freedom-of-choice/].
This is about warping democracy so that corporations have a consistent upper hand, with the result being that those politicians who are willing to do the bidding of corporations and wealthy donors are more likely to prevail. In this sense, the best way to understand the recent rush to enact anti-labor legislation is as part of the same initiative that has produced restrictive Voter ID laws, schemes to limit early voting and proposals to eliminate same-day registration [http://www.thenation.com/article/161969/rigging-elections].
What distinguishes the anti-labor initiatives is that they do not explicitly seek to make voting more difficult. They seek to make it harder for groups that seek high turnout to get voters motivated, to get voters organized and to get them to the polls.
Ultimately, however, the end result of the assault on labor rights is the same as a direct assault on voting rights: a diminished democracy.
Democracy is, of course, about more than elections. And that’s where the anti-union push becomes even more significant. It seeks to narrow the discourse by weakening groups that offer an alternative to a Wall Street–dictated future for communities, states and the nation.
Attacks on labor are nothing new. Michigan is not the first state to enact a “right to work” law—the most draconian of anti-labor initiatives. It is the twenty-fourth. Southern states enacted their laws restricting labor organizing and political engagement decades ago [http://www.thenation.com/blog/165671/right-work-and-jim-crow-legacy-affronts-kings-memory], at a time when legislators and governors in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and other bastions of segregation feared that integrated unions would unite white workers and African-American workers on the side of social improvement. That created barriers to the labor movement in the South at a time when it was still growing in much of the country.
Now, however, the anti-labor push has come north.
There is a reason ALEC and its corporate sponsors want to undermine unions.
In states such as Michigan, and Wisconsin, and Ohio, and Indiana, organized labor provides a political counterbalance to corporations. Unions cannot and do not match the spending on elections by wealthy donors and corporations. But the willingness of unions to commit financial and human resources to political fights makes a huge difference at election time in states where the labor movement has a significant presence. The 2012 election results—particularly the big wins for President Obama and Democratic Senate candidates in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—point to the connection.
This is not, however, simply about Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Among the Michigan legislators who opposed the latest attack on union rights were six state House Republicans. Unions have long traditions of aiding Republicans, and even social conservatives, who have proven to be allies of working people. Prominent conservatives once opposed “right to work” laws, as Ronald Reagan did at the start of his political career, writing as he launched his 1966 California gubernatorial race: “I also was a leader of our [Screen Actors] Guild in the fight in 1958 against the [California] right-to-work bill. I am still opposed to right-to-work.”
Now, for the most part, conservatives have cast their lot with corporations. And the demand of corporations, particularly those engaged in the ALEC project, is that politicians who want to earn the favor of corporations and wealthy donors such as Charles and David Koch or Michigan right-wingers Dick and Betsy DeVos must advance anti-labor legislation.
Anti-labor laws in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan—and the attempts to do so in states such as New Hampshire—have been advanced by political figures with ALEC ties [http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ALEC_Politicians]. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is an ALEC alumnus, as is Ohio Governor John Kasich. Among the key sponsors of the Michigan law that Governor Snyder signed today was state Senator Dave Hildenbrand, a Republican who famously paid his ALEC dues with taxpayer funds.
Those political figures are determined to limit the ability of unions to engage in political activity on behalf or working families, communities, public services and public education.
Why? By making it harder for unions to organize and to represent workers, “right to work” laws make it easier for corporations to get their political allies elected. The corporations and the legislators come together in the American Legislative Exchange Council. They produce “model legislation” to advance their project. And that project is about rewriting the rules so that the corporations win.
“What they’re doing is basically, betraying democracy,” says Teamsters president James Hoffa, who promises a great struggle to restore labor rights in Michigan [http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/hoffa-civil-war-looms-in-michigan-84957.html?hp=l7].
Hoffa’s point is well taken.
Michigan politicians have betrayed democracy.
And democracy betrayed is democracy denied.
2012-12-11 "ALEC's So-Called "Right to Work" Bill as Political Revenge in Michigan" by Lisa Graves from "ALEC Exposed"
As concerned workers come together across Michigan in protest, partisan politicians are poised to make one of the strongholds for America's blue-collar worker rights into a so-called "Right to Work" (RTW) state -- in accordance with the ALEC blueprint to change to state laws at the behest of some of the biggest corporations in the world. Yet, 42 corporations, including General Motors, have distanced themselves from ALEC this year after ALEC's role in controversial and divisive legislation was exposed.
RTW -- Brought Home to You by ALEC (and the Kochs, of course)
At issue is a bill spearheaded by ALEC legislators so beholden to their corporate benefactors that they think it's legitimate to vote in secret as equals with corporate lobbyists on model bills like RTW through ALEC "task forces," as the Center for Media and Democracy's PRWatch/ALECexposed has previously reported [http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/12/11899/alec-inspired-union-busting-bill-narrowly-passes-michigan-koch-group-cheers]. Key provisions of the Michigan RTW bills (for instance, HB 4054) are taken almost verbatim from the ALEC template.
That agenda is part of a corporate wish list of Charles and David Koch, the oil billionaires who have spent millions trying to popularize extremist ideas and move them from the fringes into binding law. David Koch's group of political operatives known as "Americans for Prosperity" (AFP) -- which I call "Americans for Greed" -- is backing the divisive legislation in Michigan.
RTW -- Brought to You by Vengeful Partisans and Very Lame Ducks
But the bill rushed through the statehouse for the governor to sign is also poisonous political payback in a state where President Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by almost 10% of the vote (nearly half a million votes), despite millions spent by the Kochs and other billionaires in campaign donations as well as dark money operations to get Romney in the White House and to get laws changes to their liking.
Michigan was a landslide loss for Republicans, who also lost seats in the state legislature in Lansing, a loss which will take effect when the next class of legislators is sworn in this January.
The get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort in Michigan was built on workers banding together to knock on doors, make phone calls, and get people to the polls on election day. Volunteers from organized labor unions were not the only ones working to get people to vote. AFP and others backing Republicans knocked on doors too, and Romney won the vote of 50,000 more Michiganians than John McCain did in 2008, but fell far short of winning the state's 16 electoral votes.
When the dust settled from last month's election, a vindictive and diminished majority in the state legislature decided to push through a bill to weaken not just American workers' power to negotiate effectively with corporate managers but also to weaken organized workers as a political force at the ballot box.
It's a sour, petty, reprehensible maneuver.
It's especially arrogant to push it through at the last minute of a "lame duck" legislature whose authority is about to expire, and it is especially deceptive to do so after Governor Rick Snyder assured voters he would not pursue RTW in the state [http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Organizing-Bargaining/In-Online-Townhall-MI-Gov.-Snyder-Opposes-RTW].
RTW -- Whose Prosperity? The Kochs ....
It's also a calculated move that demonstrates a palpable disdain for the will of the people in a state whose prosperity was built on private sector manufacturing jobs, with wages and benefits negotiated by labor unions. Those were good paying jobs that gave hard-working families financial security and a real chance to achieve the American dream and help their children have opportunities to be better off than their parents started off.
But those were the glory days before David Koch's prior group of operatives, dubbed "Citizens for a Sound Economy" (CSE) and his allies at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, started pushing hard in the 1980s for trade agreements that forced American workers to compete with third world wages and that shipped jobs overseas. And, it was before Koch's CSE launched the inside-the-beltway push in D.C. in the late 1980s to repeal the Depression Era Glass-Steagall protections against banks speculating in the stock market, a repeal that made the Wall Street stock market crash of 2008 possible, if not inevitable. (Koch Industries also lobbied against the modest Dodd-Frank reforms of derivatives trading in the 2009-2010 congressional session.)
Koch-backed ideas like these -- along with passing RTW, privatizing Social Security, thwarting efforts to address climate change -- have been very good for the Kochs. Some have already benefitted the Kochs' operations, including their speculation on oil prices and trading of oil derivatives [http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/04/13/153206/koch-industries-price-gouging/]. Such investments have helped make these two billionaires even richer. Since the Wall Street meltdown began in 2008, "the Kochs have exponentially increased their wealth by 58% while median family net worth dropped 40%," according to the research of the International Forum on Globalization [http://www.ifg.org/].
(chart information source: International Forum on Globalization)
RTW -- Less Pay, More Job Insecurity
But, such policies are very bad for ordinary Americans.
Wages for workers are lower in RTW states.
People who work in states that have bought the economic snake oil [http://www.prwatch.org/node/11877], like RTW, sold by the Koch-fueled hucksters from ALEC, along with their buddies at stink tanks like the Mackinac Center, make less than Americans in states that have not embraced this backward thinking.
It should come as no surprise that when private sector unions are weakened that this weakens the negotiating power of unions and also weakens the competitive wages offered by companies that are not unionized.
RTW is like a receding tide that lowers all boats.
Almost 75 years ago, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to help protect American workers' rights to organize and negotiate the terms of employment with corporations, helping to level the playing field between powerful corporations and individual workers with little leverage to get better wages, benefits, and working conditions. The NLRA specifically authorized the contracts collectively negotiated by labor unions to require all workers benefitting from the contract to pay dues to the union that negotiated the contract, a fair procedure called a "union security agreement" that helps protect against freeloading and also keep a union's power to enforce the contract strong.
RTW -- Bringing Some of the Worst of the South to the Northern Refuge
But in 1947, Congress under pressure from corporations amended that law to allow states to opt out of those procedures through what proponents call RTW laws. Other than the heart of the old confederacy -- which enacted RTW laws in the same period that states were trying to suppress the civil rights movement, which included many unions acting in solidarity -- most of the states in the country have not adopted RTW.
In fact, only three states have passed RTW in the past 25 years (Idaho in 1995, Oklahoma in 2001, and Indiana in 2012); the 20 other states that passed such legislation largely make up the deep south and a red swath west of the Mississippi. The 2012 presidential election map of "red" states looks strikingly close to the RTW map.
But the vast majority of blue states, like Michigan, have not embraced the long-standing ALEC agenda item of RTW. And, Oklahoma's experience over the past decade since the law passed has not been a poster child for higher wages and economic security for families.
RTW -- Scrooge, but What Will Christmas Future Bring?
It seems that whomever got to Governor Snyder and convinced him to suddenly help ram RTW through is more interested in turning Michigan red than in making sure Michigan workers have a better shot at better wages, a strong wage base that would be spent in local communities and thus help to rebuild the state's economy.
But, this political calculation could backfire at the ballot box because workers in Michigan were not voting this November or Novembers past for policies that result in even lower pay and fewer protections for the health and financial future of their families.
Repealing more than 75 years of protections for private sector unions in the Wolverine State in a matter of hours -- and in disregard of the state's culture of private sector unionization and the lack of public support for this action -- is likely to have many adverse consequences, some intended and some unintended. Just ask Romney's Ohio allies who saw first-hand the public backlash against political machinations to make it harder for Americans there to vote.
Still, there is no doubt that if Governor Snyder signs the RTW bill, Michigan workers will be hurt and unions in the state will be hurting, in the near term.
RTW in Michigan this holiday season -- it's a bill only Ebenezer Scrooge, or his modern day equivalent, could love.
2012-12-13 "Michigan’s New 'Corporate Servitude Law' Takes Away Worker Rights" by George Lakoff from "CommonDreams.org"
George Lakoff is the author of The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide
to Thinking and Talking Democratic (co-authored with Elizabeth
Wehling). His previous books include Moral Politics, Don't Think of an
Elephant!, Whose Freedom? and Thinking Points (with the Rockridge
Institute staff). He is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished
Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of
California at Berkeley, and a founding senior fellow at the Rockridge
Michigan has just passed a corporate servitude law. It is designed to take away many of the worker rights that unions have conferred throughout their history: The right to a living wage. The right to equal pay for women. The right to deferred payments in the form of pensions. The right to negotiate workplace standards and working conditions. The right to overtime pay.
The law is intended to destroy unions, or at least make then ineffective. It says simply that workers do not have to pay union dues to take a job—even if they get benefits previously negotiated by a union. Most workers who don't have to pay dues won't pay, and that will defund the unions, killing them and taking away rights unions have fought hard for over generations. Without workers negotiating as a unified group, corporations will not have to grant those union-created rights. Corporations will have take-it-or-leave-it power over individual workers. In short, this is corporate servitude: you do what you are told and take what you are offered.
The deeper truth about unions is that they don't just create and maintain rights for workers; they work for and create crucial rights in society as a whole. Unions created weekends, the eight-hour workday, and health benefits. And through their politics, they have been at the center of support for civil rights and other social justice issues. In short, unions don't just work for their members. They work for all of us. Including businesses: workers are profit creators.
Since Democratic candidates tend to support the same progressive views, defunding unions would take away their power to campaign for Democratic candidates. The new Michigan law is thus also a partisan law supporting the Republican party.
Language matters. Republicans understand this better than Democrats. Republicans have called their corporate servitude law a “right to work” law, as if the law conferred a right instead of taking many away. The first principle of political and social communication in cases of conflict is: Avoid the other side’s language. The Democrats keep violating this principle, using the Republicans’ name for this law. In this way they are helping Republicans, because using the Republican language activates Republican framing, not just for this law, but for conservative ideology at the deepest level.
Progressives and conservatives have opposing views of democracy. For progressives, democracy is based on citizens caring about each other and acting responsibly on that care, with both individual and social responsibility, to provide through the government protection and empowerment for all. Government thus becomes a means by which citizens pay for public provisions to benefit all: public infrastructure (roads, bridges, hospitals, public buildings), public education, public health and safety (clean air, clean water, safe food, disease protection), a patent office to protection innovations, a justice system, and networks for energy, communication, and transportation. Without all these public provisions, we are not free: business cannot thrive (if it can operate at all) and we cannot live decent, civilized private lives. It is a deep truth about our democracy: our freedom depends on such public provisions and the private depends on the public. Unions both defend these freedoms and add to them the worker rights unions have created.
Conservatives don't accept this truth, if they perceive it at all. They tend to see democracy as providing “liberty”—the liberty to pursue one’s own interests and well-being through personal responsibility, without being responsible for the interests or well-being of others and without others being responsible for them.
From this conservative perspective, businessmen should have the liberty to run their businesses as they please to maximize their profit, and workers should rely on only their personal responsibility to get and keep a job. Unions, for conservatives, thus violate (1) the liberty of business owners to offer workers what is most profitable for the business, (2) the personal responsibility of workers, and (3) the liberty conservatives think workers should have to work without paying union dues.
From the progressive perspective, the new Michigan law is a corporate servitude law, while from the conservative perspective, the law is a “right to work” law.
Language works so that the conservative name “right to work” evokes the conservative political ideology in the brains of those who hear it without wincing. The more an idea is activated in the brain the stronger it gets. Thus, the use of the conservative name strengthens the conservative ideology in the brains of the public.
The press is not being neutral in using the Republican name for the law. Journalists too, in just using the name, are supporting both the Republican framing of the law and conservative ideology. The press is not being balanced — which is what journalists typically claim to be. Balance would be to use both the names “corporate servitude law” and “right to work law” and to explain the differences in the progressive and conservative understanding of what the law is and does.
Of course, to do so would change a false view of language that journalists too often internalize, namely, that language is neutral. To see that it isn’t, just try speaking or writing of “Michigan’s corporate servitude law” and listen to conservatives scream bloody murder over a truth that does fit their view of democracy. And listen to them keep screaming because it is important to keep repeating the true name of the law if the public is to understand what the law really does.
2012-12-09 "Michigan’s Right to Work Law: battle lines, strategy, tactics; Law rammed through as protesters pepper sprayed" by Jeff Bigelow from "LiberationNews.org"
Update: Following the publication of this article on Dec. 9, the Michigan House of Representatives voted on Dec. 11 to approve anti-union legislation while 15,000 workers and their allies demonstrated in protest. The anti-union measures had already been passed by the Michigan Senate, and Gov. Rick Snyder has indicated he will sign them into law.
Michigan legislators rammed through “Right to Work” legislation in less than seven hours on Dec. 6. To get the job done, police closed the capitol building to thousands of union protesters and pepper sprayed or tear gassed union activists. Later a judge ruled that the police had done just what they should. This is what capitalist democracy looks like when critical issues are at stake for the ruling class and people are in motion.
Right to Work: a blow to labor -
“Right to Work” legislation is a deceptive term because it has nothing to do with the demand for jobs. Such laws do not guarantee any rights; in fact they limit rights. They make it illegal to bargain what are called union security agreements, a common feature of contracts for about the last 80 years.
A more accurate term would be “Right to Work for Less.”
Right to Work laws weaken the voice for better wages and benefits by making it illegal to require all who benefit from a contract to pay dues or to bargain a contract clause requiring everyone to pay dues to cover the cost of bargaining and enforcing the contract that they benefit from. That weakens the organization.
Wages are lower in Right to Work states. An average worker in a Right to Work state earns about $7,131 a year less than workers in states where unions are free to bargain over union security. Right to Work states also have higher poverty rates. According to calculations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 41 percent higher in states with Right to Work laws, a reflection of a union voice that is weaker.
The anti-union forces behind the legislation -
Among those driving this bill through the Michigan House and Senate were Sen. Arlan Meekhoff, Rep. Tom McMillin, and Rep. Pete Lund, all of whom are members of American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC helped drive the union-killing events in Wisconsin and is funded by the Koch brothers.
However, it is not just ALEC members who voted for this legislation in Michigan and Indiana (or earlier in New Hampshire). Many ruling class entities are pushing this program.
Sheldon Adelson (whose net worth is $21.5 billion) told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Dec. 4 that he was not giving up after spending $100 million to defeat President Obama. He said that he was going to refocus his financial and political guns on labor. His strategy now is to stop or weaken a union’s ability to bargain contracts at the state level.
Adelson calls himself a “social liberal.” He owns casinos around the world, and his flagship, the Venetian, is one of the biggest non-union casinos in Las Vegas. The only reason that it continues to be non-union is that management uses vicious and illegal anti-union methods to stop workers from organizing.
He wants what the ruling class wants in general: a union-free playing field where they can drive down wages and rights to a level where people can just barely live.
Captured in that strategy is the reason why those with and without a union should support the fight in Michigan. If the Kochs and their ilk get their way with a Right to Work law in the heart of union territory, everyone who wants to win decent wages, benefits and rights will be that much further away from their goal.
Democrats and Republicans attacking labor -
Michigan has been an established power house of union strength for decades. But labor has been undermined by auto factories moving production abroad and cutting jobs, wages and benefits at home. Concessions by labor have only been seen as weakness and have led to more demands for more concessions.
The one remaining union power in the Midwest, or certainly the biggest union power, is that in the public sector. And within the Midwest there is no greater strength than AFSCME in Illinois. AFSCME represents over 40,000 state workers and tens of thousands of local government and non-profit workers. While the anti-labor attacks in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan have been initiated by Republicans, in Illinois the attacks are orchestrated by the Democratic Party. The governor and the leaders of the House and Senate are all Democrats, and they are all pushing an anti-labor agenda.
Illinois Governor Quinn is the chair of the Democratic Governor’s Association Labor Committee. He views himself as a populist. But this “populist” is attacking labor in ways that even Gov. Walker in Wisconsin never did. Unlike Walker, he has refused to pay raises in the existing contract (5.25 percent from a four-year contract that expired June 30). Like Walker, he insisted that collective bargaining rights be taken from thousands of state workers who already have them. Like Walker, he has attacked pensions for state workers, cutting pension rights for new employees two years ago and trying to cut them for everyone else now.
While the contract for state employees expired in June, bargaining has continued. For the first time ever in Illinois, the governor unilaterally terminated the contract, which had been extended in June, even while bargaining continued. It was a sign of war. Moreover, his negotiators are clearly driving to a point where they can declare impasse and impose terms that will slash incomes. Retirees may have to pay up to 25 percent of their very meager pensions for health care. He has similar plans to drive down the standard of living of current employees. This struggle will come to a head in the coming weeks.
Labor’s next step -
How will labor respond to the challenge in Michigan? Over the weekend, hundreds of union members crammed into union halls expressing a desire to fight back.
Demonstrations are planned for the next few days, which will coincide with the next votes on Right to Work. The two versions of the bill have to be reconciled before passage, and the earliest that they can vote is Dec. 11.
Some unions are talking about civil disobedience. Certainly an action that surrounds the capitol and prevents business as usual would be a welcome development—potentially stopping the ability of the right-wing to pass the law.
However, the real power of labor is the ability to stop everything—not just traffic on a particular street. While police may be able to clear a street of protesters, they cannot replace the workers in offices, stores, restaurants and factories. Organizing a general strike by all of labor is a tactic that is on par with the attack that is designed to strangle labor. The movement created by a general strike would draw a line in the sand on behalf of every employed and unemployed worker across the country who is sick of the race to the bottom, sick of the demands for concessions, sick of low wages and few benefits.
Over the last year, Michigan workers have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures to get initiatives on the ballot only to find that the legislative and electoral arenas are dominated by and manipulated by the rich and powerful. Now is the time for tactics that use our strength in an arena where we are the ones who dominate—that is at every worksite.
The roots of the Right to Work battle: 1947 and 2012 -
Today’s Right to Work laws are founded on the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. It was passed at a time when millions of workers were striking for a living wage, and for new rights to employer-paid health insurance and pensions. They were striking for justice on the job.
Bankers and businessmen saw the rising tide of worker rebellions as a struggle for power on the job, so they came up with a law that was designed to weaken unions. By taking the financial/organizational muscle out of the union, Taft-Hartley made it illegal to require everyone who benefits from union contracts to pay dues.
That was just one aspect of the law. Others included the creation of new ways for corporations and others to sue unions while at the same time banning union solidarity actions such as secondary strikes and boycotts (actions by workers not directly affected by a contract). The law banned closed shops where all workers in a union shop must belong to the union as a condition of employment.
All of those Taft-Hartley restrictions affected the financial strength of the union and their strategy and tactics. But another aspect of the law aimed directly at the heart of the union. The law required that union leaders take an oath supporting the very government that was undermining the unions. The law specifically banned communists, who had given leadership, vision and life to the labor movement, from playing a role. Combined with the McCarthy witch hunt, communists were hounded out of the labor movement by way of both hearings and neo-fascist violence.
Sixty-five years later, the effects of that 1947 law and the reactionary period that followed can still be seen in the weakness of labor. Waves of state repression, contracting out, plant closings and so on have added layers of weight that shape the state of the labor movement.
But the situation is not all doom and gloom. Labor today is not the same as it was in 1947. The working class is filled with the vitality of millions more African American, Latino, Asian and other workers of color. The willingness to act has been demonstrated by the general strike of Latino workers in 2006 and the Chicago teachers' strike of 2012. The many divisions that separate workers are still there, but the potential for what can be done is infinitely greater than it was in 1947.
More than anything the ranks want a solution.
What is needed in 2012 is a leadership that will act.
2012-12-11 "A 'National Attack': Michigan Passes 'Right-to-Work' Law; Police in
riot gear confront thousands as legislation seen as blow to collective
bargaining power, middle class passes" by Andrea Germanos from "CommonDreams.org"[http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/12/11-4]:
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law contentious "right-to-work" legislation on Tuesday after tear-gas wielding police and over ten thousand people protesting the attack on labor converged at the state Capitol and vowed that the day's action was just the beginning.
Snyder's signature makes the state the 24th to have a law dubbed by critics as "right-to-work for less."
Among the thousands speaking out against the legislation Tuesday was United Auto Worker President Bob King, the Detroit Free Press reports [http://www.freep.com/article/20121211/NEWS15/121211011/Police-don-riot-gear-anger-grows-among-thousands-protesters-Michigan-Capitol]:
"Unions built the middle class of America," he said. "This is a national attack. These folks want to shift more and more of the wealth to a smaller and smaller group of people."
Speaker after speaker, including firefighters, teachers and factory workers, vowed today’s protest was just the start. They said they would follow legislators all over the state to remind people of their votes.
State Rep. Brandon Dillon, who spoke out against the legislation on the House floor on Thursday [http://www.commondreams.org/video/2012/12/09], told Democracy Now! on Tuesday that Republicans are "pushing a law that is decisively anti-labor-union, anti-worker, and the only defense they can have is to come up with buzzwords like 'freedom to work' and 'pro-worker.'" What right-to-work laws are really about, according to Rep. Dillon, is corporate profits [http://www.democracynow.org/2012/12/11/michigan_gop_push_through_anti_union].
This isn’t about freedom to choose, and they—they know that. They know from their own polling that the more people know about this proposal, the less they like it. What they don’t tell you is that nobody has been forced to join a labor union in Michigan. It’s illegal under federal law. And in fact, if this right to work — or as my colleagues and I like to refer to it as "freedom to freeload" — passes, those that choose not to join a union and not to pay dues will still be given all the benefits that a union contract entails and all the protections that union representation has. The proponents of this legislation will not tell you that. They will not tell you that unions will still be bound to represent those people who choose not to participate in the union.
And for a party that talks about personal responsibility all the time, it seems strangely ironic that they’re promoting this idea of freeloading, because really what it’s about is what Betsy DeVos and her husband have said all along: They don’t like the fact that Michigan workers enjoy a higher standard of living than other states; they did not like high wages; they don’t like the fact that unions have some place at the bargaining table to advocate for their employees; they want to weaken the hand of unions; they want to depress wages; and they want to make it an economy where a shrinking middle class means more corporate profits.
San Francisco State University professor John Logan dismantles the Republican worker "freedom" story at In These Times [http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/14281/right_to_work_in_michigan_is_about_politics_not_economics]:
Snyder insists on stating that right-to-work laws give workers the “ultimate choice” on whether or not they join a union. Either through willful ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation, Snyder is professing to give employees a right that they already enjoy.
In fact, right-to-work laws simply outlaw agreements that provide for agency fees from non-members, thereby making it much more difficult for unions to maintain stable organizations. Unions are still required by law to negotiate on behalf of all the workers in the bargaining unit, even though under right-to-work, non-members don't pay for the representation they receive.
The Michigan bills have "bill mill" ALEC's fingerprints all over them, Brendan Fischer points out at PRWatch [http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/12/11902/alecs-so-called-right-work-bill-political-revenge-michigan]:
"This is a major day in Michigan's history," Gov. Snyder said during a news conference shortly after signing the legislation. But if labor supporters like teacher Mike Ingels are right, the day also marks a major point in the fight against such anti-union efforts.
“This is not the end,” Ingels said [http://www.toledoblade.com/Politics/2012/12/11/Union-members-supporters-crowd-Michigan-Capitol.html]. “This is the beginning.”
Mandi Wright of the Detroit Free Press has video of labor rights protesters in the Capitol Rotunda:
2012-12-07 "Right to Work Looms in Michigan" by Alix Gould-Werth from "Labor Notes"
Alix Gould-Werth is a member of the Graduate Employees Organization, Teachers Local 3550, at the University of Michigan.
Michigan unionists rallied and lobbied in the state capital yesterday to prevent right-to-work legislation. A bill has passed the House and Senate, and fear is that the governor will sign the bill during the lame-duck session. Republicans will lose five seats once the new legislature is seated in January, making defeat of right to work much more likely then.
Capitol police evicted some protesters yesterday, with arrests and Mace, and closed the building.
Here a member of one Michigan union explains how a state that was considered a union bastion came to this point.
Earlier this year I stood on a street corner, holding a clipboard for Proposal 2 and hoping that Michigan would be a trailblazer: the first state to make union rights constitutional rights. Today, I’m filling my tank for the drive to the state Capitol in Lansing, with the apprehension that Michigan will become the 24th state to end unionization as we know it.
The Republican-dominated legislature is poised to adopt “right-to-work” legislation. Yesterday hundreds of workers convened in the Capitol rotunda, chanting “hey hey, ho ho, right to work has got to go.” How did we get here?
Perhaps it began one state over, in Wisconsin. Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder learned from the mistakes of his neighbor across the lake, Scott Walker. When Walker attacked unions in Wisconsin with a bludgeon, provoking intense opposition last year, Snyder was watching. He saw the powerful reaction of union-loyal Midwesterners faced with a clear threat.
So instead, Snyder and his allies in the legislature pursued a strategy of a thousand cuts. Instead of introducing a bill that would affect all unions, the Michigan legislators did it piecemeal: taking away teachers’ automatic dues deductions, defining university research assistants as non-workers, and other measures that wouldn’t rile everyone at once.
Michigan labor went on offense, to pass a constitutional amendment that would have nullified all those laws-of-a-thousand-cuts and insulated us against new legislative threats, including “right to work.” We collected thousands of signatures for Proposal 2, made thousands of phone calls, and knocked on thousands of doors. In the week before the election we were neck and neck in the polls. And then Proposal 2 was defeated—57 to 42 percent.
There are many theories why we lost Proposal 2. Perhaps there were too many proposals on the ballot, perhaps it was the misleading ads financed by corporate interests, maybe we weren’t explicit enough about the threats to labor and the protections enshrined in the proposal.
Regardless, one month later, Governor Snyder, who previously had called right to work “divisive” and said it wasn’t a priority, now says he’ll sign this legislation if it crosses his desk during the lame duck session. The Chamber of Commerce is pushing it. Right-wing activist Dick DeVos of the Amway fortune started airing statewide TV ads Tuesday. The Republicans control both houses of the legislature and have the votes.
So where does this leave us? What’s on the table is the disappearance of union jobs from Michigan and the standard of living they have given workers, union and non-union alike. Last year Michigan was the state with the fifth highest percentage of unionized workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Back from Lansing, Liz DeLisle Rodrigues, communications chair of the Graduate Employees Organization, Teachers Local 3550, reported on the broad spectrum of workers who were there—teachers, electricians, construction workers, service workers, nurses, and more. Rodrigues observed simply: “Working people are getting the word out and banding together to fight.”
See you at the Capitol.
Michigan unionists packed the rotunda of the state Capitol in Lansing yesterday but the House passed a right to work bill. Protests are planned there for Tuesday. Photo: AFT Michigan.
2012-12-07 "Michigan GOP Passes Draconian Union-Busting Legislation Without Public Input" from "Spotlight" newsjournal
Over the course of just one day, the Michigan House and Senate introduced and passed union-busting “right to work for less” legislation, without any hearings or public input from the community. More than 3,000 union members and workers' rights advocates rallied against the legislation and for several hours police shut the doors to the Capitol, keeping protesters out of the House and Senate galleries. Several people were maced as they tried to enter.
The bill, which Michigan Gov. Snyder says he’ll sign into law, will roll back workers’ rights and drag down wages for all Michigan workers families, both union and non-union. The Michigan legislature’s action prompted President Barack Obama to release a public statement reaffirming that he “has long opposed so-called ‘right to work’ laws and he continues to oppose them now."