(By James P. Hoffa, General President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters)
Extremist billionaires have achieved what seemed unthinkable only a few years ago. They rapidly forced through union-busting laws in Michigan, the birthplace of the modern American labor movement.
No one should be confused about why they did it.
The passage of right-to-work-for-less in Michigan wasn’t driven by the desire to grow jobs or boost the state’s economy. It will do neither. The record on so-called “right to work” in other states is clear. These anti-worker laws lead to lower wages, fewer benefits, increased poverty, more dangerous workplaces and have no credible effect on job growth.
Much of the media is still getting this story wrong. The forces that rammed the union-busting law through the Michigan Legislature – democracy be damned – had one thing in mind: political payback.
They had spent years laying the groundwork. Since 2008, $18 million was spent in Michigan on propaganda deriding collective bargaining by the Koch brothers through their phony front group, Americans for Prosperity, and by Amway heir Dick DeVos through the Mackinac Center. Karl Rove’s American Crossroads SuperPAC and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson joined the attack on Michigan’s middle class by pouring money into the state on behalf of Mitt Romney.
While Republicans spent millions in Michigan alone, their money was no match for labor’s massive get-out-the-vote drive. Republicans lost by 10 points in Michigan, Romney’s childhood home.
After suffering a humiliating defeat in a presidential election they thought was all but theirs, extremist Republicans decided to take out their frustration on Michigan labor. This was not a random target. It was organized labor that made the difference in Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan, decisively winning those states for President Obama. Not even Paul Ryan on the Republican ticket could overcome labor’s massive get-out-the-vote efforts in Wisconsin.
They got their revenge last month. They used Michigan’s lame-duck legislative session to punish working families for daring to vote for Obama – without hearings, without committees and without any public input. During part of the rushed proceedings, the Statehouse door was locked despite a judge ordering the building opened.
It only would have taken one person to stop this assault on workers. That person, Gov. Rick Snyder, for two years had said – accurately – that the anti-worker legislation was “too divisive.” After the election he suddenly reversed himself and chose to do the bidding of right-wing billionaires who gave him protective cover.
A new group headed by a DeVos company employee (and DeVos’s former campaign manager), launched a $1 million radio and television ad buy on the day Snyder announced his reversal. Americans for Prosperity set up a heated tent outside the Capitol on the day the legislation was passed and bused in supporters.
Snyder is dutifully reciting the lies about right to work. He says it will bring jobs to Michigan, a myth that’s been debunked time and time again. He even calls the new law pro-worker.
But no amount of spin can hide the real purpose of these laws: It is to weaken the infrastructure of organized labor and, with that, the backbone of the Democratic Party and progressive movement.
The right-wing elite know they cannot win without destroying unions. That’s why they are willing to spend so much money funding the war on workers. Adelson made that clear this week, telling the Wall Street Journal that he will double his investments in the GOP and state-level attacks on labor.
The right-to-work legislation passed in Michigan is only the opening salvo for the 2014 election.
We can expect more assaults on the Democratic Party’s base at the state level for the next four years. Another Koch-backed group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, will push for more laws to suppress the votes of their political enemies, more laws to weaken unions and more laws to empower corporations.
Working families are ready and willing to fight this assault on democracy and defend the middle class.