Macing Unions

As you may have heard, police used pepper spray on protestors at the Michigan State Capitol today after Gov. Rick Snyder and GOP legislative leaders unveiled a plan to blitz “right-to-work” legislation through a fast-track device during a lame-duck session. To all appearances, GOPers will have the votes to pull off this surprise maneuver, though they might have struggled to do so given their loss of five state House seats on November 6, which reduced (but did not eliminate) their majority.

You have to figure there was some national GOP/conservative input into this decision. The symbolism of Michigan, with its proud labor history, joining the (mostly) southern and western states in the officially anti-union column would be pretty big.

And despite all the rhetoric about “freedom” surrounding this and every other RTW initiative, what such laws actually do is to ban freely negotiated “union shop” contracts between employer and unions requiring that workers represented in collective bargaining contribute to those representing them. Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, which gave the states the power to enact such laws, was wildly controversial at the time it was enacted, and needs to become so again today.

It’s possible Michigan GOPers have overreached with this atavistic coup. But progressives around the country who responded so avidly to the earlier battle over collective bargaining in Wisconsin really need to make some noise about Michigan right now.

UPDATE: President Obama comes out against proposed Michigan law, which will certainly help make some noise.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.