Editorials

Michigan labor defeat a call to activism

Despite angry protests from thousands of union workers, a Republican-dominated House of Representatives and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder dealt the American labor movement a stunning setback on Dec. 11 when they enacted legislation making Michigan a “right-to-work” state. The result is a ban on requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other essential services.

Anti-labor proponents have long pushed for passage of “right-to-work” laws in many states all over the country, particularly in the South and Southwest. That such a setback for labor could happen in Michigan, a northern industrial state that is the birthplace of the modern labor movement, should serve as a clarion call to workers everywhere to get more involved in the political process to support pro-labor candidates or risk watching Republican-dominated statehouses reverse or eliminate crucial gains to workplace rights and benefits that the American labor movement has achieved over the past 60 years.

This setback in Michigan follows on the heels of the curtailment of public union collective-bargaining rights in Wisconsin as well as a “right-to-work” law in Indiana, and labor advocates fear that Minnesota could be the next state to adopt such measures. The Koch brothers and other wealthy conservatives have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to fund right-to-work campaigns in states with Republican legislative majorities, and they have made clear their willingness to spend millions more to cripple the American labor movement under the guise of pushing for increased fiscal responsibility in state governments.

The labor movement — in New York State and the rest of the nation — can never afford to drop its guard against these threats. We must always be vigilant and, more important, deeply involved as players in the political process, which here in New York City is helped by member contributions to COPE. 

If it can happen in Michigan, then it can happen anywhere.

Read more: Editorials
Related topics: labor movement
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