Ancient Battle

The right-to-work blitz in Michigan may have been a tactical surprise to unions and to Democrats. But timing aside, the legislation represents an ancient, almost primal cause among conservatives who view unions as both an economic and political threat to a free market society in which workers are independent contractors whose low pay and meager benefits are an accurate benefit of their limited value to the enterprises that make all good things possible.

In a piece on how Gov. Rick Snyder has squandered his image as the rare “moderate” Republican, Salon‘s Josh Eidelson links to a video where a national GOP leader from Michigan tells a Tea Party audience just a few months ago that conservatives are determined to enact right-to-work in Michigan by ballot initiative if Snyder and legislators don’t get it done legislatively. You’ll hear a lot of magic names as among the forces working towards that end: the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity, Amway founder Don DeVos, former Michigan Gov. John Engler, who now directs the Business Roundtable, etc.

The key thing to understand is that this is the kind of fight where you can put aside most nuanced policy arguments and just pick up sides and go at it. You either think workers are minor, incidental figures in a wealth-creating world led by heroic entrepreneurs, who are like so many Gullivers among the Lilliputians when it comes to the petty concerns of their employees and their union representatives–or you don’t. But this battle is very, very dear to the most lavishly funded operators of the hard-core right. If their win in Michigan sticks, the hoary, Dixie-fried Right-To-Work cause will shake off the dust of the political graveyard and become the hot new thing across the industrial midwest. It’s sad but true.

UPDATE: A Detroit Free Press editorial raises questions about the involvement of the ALEC’s involvement in the decision to rush through right-to-work legislation.

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.