December 2012, Week 3


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Tue, 18 Dec 2012 21:02:18 -0500
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The Mythology of "Right-To-Work" Persists

by Harry Targ

December 16, 2012
Diary of a Heartland Radical


The Michigan legislature and Governor Richard Snyder passed a
new "right-to-work" law on December 11, 2012. Such laws,
authorized by the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, allow
states to prohibit union locals from requiring workers who
choose not to join the union that represents them at the work
place and who receive union services from having to pay for

Social scientists refer to the dilemma this creates as the
"free-rider" problem. Why pay for bargaining and negotiation,
support for worker grievances, and other services if you can
get them free? In the long run, supporters of right-to-work
laws hope to reduce union membership and weaken organized
workers as an economic force in the workplace and a political
force in the electoral arena.

The Michigan Governor reversed his earlier declaration that he
would not support this controversial legislation. Michigan is
a state where the modern labor movement was formed in the
1930s during the sit-down strikes in auto plants. Indiana
Governor Mitch Daniels also promised labor leaders that he
would not support such legislation. They both changed their
minds because the prospects of defeating labor at this
critical juncture seemed too good to miss. So Michigan, like
Indiana, dusted off its copy of the American Legislative
Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation and passed it.

As the Economic Policy Institute states, right-to-work
provisions have negative consequences for workers. In right-
to-work states workers earn significantly lower wages than
workers in states without such laws. Also, they are less
likely to benefit from employer-sponsored health insurance
plans. Some studies note that health and safety at workplaces
in right-to-work states fare poorly compared with workers in
states without such laws. In short, Section 14 (b), the right-
to-work provision of the Taft-Hartley Law of 1947, was
designed to weaken the burgeoning new and militant labor
movement of that day and as a result to increase corporate
rates of profit.

On December 12, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (soon to be
Purdue University president) announced that nine companies
were "expected" to make investments in his state creating
2,552 new jobs. These included such companies as Angie's List,
BidPal Inc, and Mitsubishi Engine North America.  The
Indianapolis Star indicated that the nine companies who
"expect" to add these jobs by 2016 will receive over $27
million in tax credits. It was likely that the Daniels
announcement was designed to support Michigan Governor
Snyder's claim that he was inspired by the alleged economic
boom Indiana experienced since adopting right-to-work
legislation last winter.

Governor Daniels indicated that "...we have seen a significant
surge of new interest in the past several months." Again,
Governor Snyder was inspired by the Indiana story not because
of the tax giveaways but because he claimed it was Indiana's
right-to-work law which was passed ten-months ago that spurred
this "economic miracle" in the Hoosier state.

In a recent article on the Economic Policy Institute (EPI)
website written by political scientist Gordon Lafer, economist
Marty Wolfson, and Indiana state AFL-CIO President Nancy
Guyott, it was pointed out that investment decisions require a
lengthy process of study. Since the law was passed last
January, became effective in March and is being challenged in
court, the authors argued, it was unlikely that the new law
would have affected decisions to invest in Indiana.

Further Lafer, Wolfson, and Guyott point out that none of the
nine companies the Daniels' report referred to claim that the
new right-to-work law had anything to do with their plans to
invest more in the state. Some of the nine already had major
facilities in the state. In addition, the authors examined
companies that were courted by the state but chose to go
elsewhere. Their research indicated that right-to-work was not
a criteria for choosing before 2012 to invest in other states.

Perhaps the most significant facts gleaned from recent
research on the Indiana economy were published by the Indiana
Institute for Working Families in their study entitled "Status
of Working Families in Indiana, 2011."
Among their key findings are the following:

	-the state had 231,500 fewer jobs as 2012 began than
	pre-recession employment.

	-21,200 state and local government jobs were lost from
	August, 2008 through February, 2012 (22 percent of
	jobs lost).

	-in 2012, 19 percent of unemployment is among youth.

	-Indiana is among 17 states continuing to experience
	absolute declines in the labor force since the
	recession began.

	-only 14.6 percent of Hoosiers over the age of 25 have
	bachelor's degrees.

	-Indiana ranks 41st in average wages earned; economic
	inequality in the state has grown since 2000 but
	worker productivity has increased by 14 percent.

	-median family income fell by 13.6 percent over the
	past decade.

	-since 2000 poverty has increased by 52 percent.

The figures on the devolution of the Indiana economy over the
last decade, as its state government has shifted to the right,
are staggering. This is the model to which the Michigan
Governor and legislature aspire.

Several conclusions can be drawn from the data and the
contemporary political context in the industrial heartland of

First, economic decline has been a characteristic feature of
workers' lives before, during, and since the recession.

Second, during much of the last decade, particularly in states
like Indiana, the political environment has been increasingly
shaped by the rightwing economic agenda of the Republican

There is no evidence, historical or contemporary, that right-
to-work laws will reverse the severe economic decline workers
experience. But there is evidence that the wealth and power of
the super-rich will increase, while workers' wages decline at
the same time that their productivity rises.

Third, looking at capital/labor relations since the onset of
the twentieth century, the strength of organized labor matters
for all workers. Right-to-work, rather than attracting new
investors, primarily enriches the current corporations in
right-to-work states and weakens unions.

Finally, as President Obama stated in a visit to Detroit just
before the Michigan legislative vote, the resurgence of right-
to-work campaigns is "political." Why? Because the labor
movement is the only financial and grassroots base of
opposition to the shift to pre-New Deal economic policy. This
was demonstrated in the "ground game" of the labor movement in
key battleground states during the last election. It also was
reflected in campaigns to reverse assaults on public employees
in Ohio and mobilizations of teachers in Chicago to protect
public education. In general organized labor represents the
front-line of defense against shocking inequalities in wealth
and power, opposition to the privatization of virtually all
public institutions, and the protection of programs that have
given modest economic security to large portions of the

The Michigan story and the mythology about Indiana are just
part of the ongoing struggle of the financial/corporate class
and their rightwing politicians to destroy the last movement
that can save Americans from destitution. While weakened labor
appears to be mobilizing to protect the interests of the
broadening working class.

[Harry Targ teaches foreign policy,US/Latin American
relations, international political economy, and topics on
labor studies in a Department of Political Science and a
program in Peace Studies.

"I see connections between theory/education and political
practice. I am a member of the Committees of Correspondence
for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), the Northwest Central
Labor Council (AFL-CIO),and the Lafayette Area Peace Coalition
(LAPC). My new book, Diary of a Heartland Radical, can be
ordered at http://stores.lulu.com/changemaker I can be reached
at [log in to unmask]"]

[Thanks to the author for sharing this with Portside.]



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