By Brian Gilmore
President Obama is right to side with organized labor in Michigan.
Michigan is home of the United Auto Workers, historically one of the most powerful unions in the country. It is also home to a highly partisan Republican-controlled legislature, which rammed through an anti-labor bill in early December, which Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, signed.
Snyder was previously noncommittal on the so-called right-to-work bill, acknowledging that it was “divisive.” It strikes at the heart of unions’ ability to function effectively.
“What they’re talking about is giving you the right to make less money,” Obama told union members in Michigan. “What we shouldn’t be doing is try to take away your rights to bargain for better wages or working conditions.”
The manner in which this union-busting bill was voted upon was a travesty. The bill was suddenly moved through the system on the morning of Dec. 6 and passed within hours. There were no hearings held. There was no chance for public review, comment or participation.
When the public learned of this, crowds rushed to the statehouse to protest. However, the Capitol building was shut down by a massive police presence, though some protesters had already entered. Some were arrested and pepper-sprayed. Democrats sued to have the building reopened.
The Republicans had attached a phony budget provision to the bill that rendered the bill a law that will impact the state budget, even though it won’t. This provision under Michigan law prevents a challenge by referendum from being held on the law.
The accomplishments and the importance of organized labor historically for all workers can’t be disputed. Organized labor has resulted in better pay, better working conditions and better benefits not just for unionized workers but for all employees in this country. The labor movement brought you the weekend, the eight-hour day and the minimum wage. And by boosting wages, it increased consumption for the entire economy.
Union membership peaked at 36 percent during the 1950s. Today, it is just below 12 percent. It has fallen rapidly because corporate executives have done everything in their power to crush unions, including illegal firings of organizers. It has also declined because Republican officeholders, at the state and federal level, have put up one obstacle after another to unionizing. And when President Reagan went after the air traffic controllers and busted that union, he sent a clear signal that it was open season on labor.
Obama is now siding with labor. That may not be enough to hold back the anti-labor actions of companies and Republican statehouses, but it is an important signal nonetheless.
We need strong labor unions, and the underhanded move in Michigan, of all places, must not stand.
Brian Gilmore is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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