Labor’s Defeat Came in a State with a Strong Union Movement

By Harry Kelber | The American Labor Reform Movement | December 18, 2012

Organized Labor suffered a stunning defeat, when the Republican governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, made a last-minute switch to endorse and sign a "Right-to-Work" bill.

What was surprising to many union officials is that the anti-labor measure was passed in the home state of the powerful United Auto Workers Union, and long considered the birthplace of modern unionism.

Protesters hold a silent protest in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, a day after thousands of protesters rallied on the grounds as lawmakers pushed final versions of right-to-work legislation. The tape over their mouths demonstrates how Gov. Rick Snyder and his allies have silenced Michigan’s middle class, and effectively cut the wages of Michiganders by $1,500. ASSOCIATED PRESS

There are now 24 states with Right-to-Work laws, stretching from Utah and Nevada to Tennessee and Oklahoma in the Midwest, and Virginia and North Carolina on the East Coast, all of them operating on the principle that workers do not have to pay union dues or assessments as a condition of their employment.

The Republicans use of the ‘Right-to-Work" slogan was aimed at confusing unemployed workers. The state laws they passed would free workers in any plant from paying initiation fees, union dues and other financial obligations.

New State Law Puts a Clamp on Union Organizing

If a union organizer negotiates higher wages and other improvements, all the workers in the plant would share the same benefits without having to pay union dues.

For the "free loaders," this was an ideal way of getting something that was valuable, but at no cost. But for unions, trying to recruit new members, it was a financial trap.

There were instances when unions did not receive financial support from workers, even when they succeeded in negotiating good contracts.

Many unions were forced to suspend their organizing efforts for lack of funds, with very little support coming from the national AFL-CIO.

If the AFL-CIO hopes to reverse its declining influence, it will have to figure out a strategy to deal with "Right-to-Work" laws. Having won in Michigan a strongly pro-labor state, the "Right-to-Work" people will surely go after weaker state labor organizations

The Republicans and their right-wing allies now control almost half of the states in the United States. With billions of dollars available to them, they intend to use their current momentum to cripple organized labor as a force in American life.

How should we respond to their threats to our survival? What do our leaders propose to counter the "Right-to-Work" challenge to union growth?

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