“If you seek a pleasant peninsula,” Michigan’s state motto informs, “look about you.” This may have rung true when the state’s founding fathers settled on these words 177 years ago. It doesn’t now.
The Mayan 2012 prophecy came true for labor bosses Tuesday night. Rick Snyder, the governor of a state known for its powerful industrial trade unions, signed right-to-work legislation into law. The Wolverine state becomes the twenty-fourth in the union to bar compulsory unionization. The overtones of such a labor stronghold adopting right-to-work rules—the symbolic equivalent of Mississippi codifying gay marriage or Texas banning firearms—wasn’t lost on either side of the for-now-settled debate. The two new laws allow private- and public-sector workers to hold jobs without union honchos automatically siphoning off a portion of their paychecks.
The union honchos are not happy.
Frustrate a racket at the risk of inflaming the racketeers. Thousands of workers skipped work, including hooky-playing public school teachers whose absence closed several schools, to demonstrate against the legislation. Their behavior proved a fairly accurate reflection of the law they fought to keep on the books. The protestors relied on force in an attempt to intimidate politicians into imposing a law that compels workers to join a union as a condition of employment. But strong-arm tactics failed to hold up a strong-arm rule. They only illustrated the injustice of force over freedom.
“We’re going to pass something that will undo a hundred years of labor relations,” state representative Douglas Geiss warned. “And there will be blood. There will be repercussions.”
This was less prophecy than observation. On the grounds of the same state house where the representative made his banana-republic utterance, the like-minded simple-minded went on a rampage. Protestors punched Fox News contributor Steven Crowder in the face. Knife-wielding union supporters slashed a tent legally permitted for Americans for Prosperity’s Michigan branch and then trampled on the fallen tarp with people still under it. Police arrested two men trying to force their way into a building that houses offices for the state’s governor. Another demonstrator assaulted a state policewoman. Protestors chanted, “No justice! No peace!”
“I really wish we had not gone here,” representative Geiss further opined. “It is the leadership in this house that has led us here. The same leadership that tried to throw a bomb right on Election Day, leading to a member switching parties, and came in at the eleventh hour with a gotcha bill. For that, I do not see solace, I do not see peace.” Could he have been looking out a window when he said this?
The new laws don’t prevent any of the thousands of union members demonstrating at the state capitol from remaining union members back at the job site. They just prevent unions from forcing workers to pay dues to organization to which they don’t wish to belong. The degree to which this proves an Armageddon to organized labor will demonstrate the degree to which organized labor remains popular with individual laborers.
Surely organized labor remains popular with Democratic Party politicians. “These so-called ‘right to work’ laws, they don’t have to do with economics; they have everything to do with politics,” President Obama, a beneficiary of union campaign volunteers and union donations, declared at a car factory in Redford, Michigan on Monday. “What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.” The president’s spokesman declined to condemn the violence in Lansing, claiming ignorance, for instance, of Representative Geiss’s provocative remarks. “I haven’t seen those comments,” Jay Carney explained in a Tuesday briefing, “and I’m not sure they mean what someone interprets them to mean,”
Surly the union bosses preaching doomsday misinterpreted the eschatological signs. The endtimes weren’t in the state capital of Lansing, where a businessman politician affixed his signature to legislation inviting business back into Michigan, but in postapocalyptic Detroit, a union bastion where illegitimate births approach 90 percent, adult illiteracy nears 50 percent, the median home price remains the lowest of any of America’s big cities at $86,000, and half the city’s population fled in the last half century. There is power in a union.
Michigan’s right-to-work law may prove cataclysmic for union coffers. But the governor only signed it long after unions proved cataclysmic for Michigan’s coffers.
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