One of the most significant election battles this November is underway in Michigan where voters will have an opportunity to reverse the alarming trend in the rollback of rights for workers and communities.
Michigan Proposal 2 would permanently add collective bargaining rights to the Michigan Constitution, for both public and private workers. It would bar new laws or existing laws intended to restrict those rights.
Not surprisingly, the initiative is under assault from the same corporate and rightwing interests that have made this proposal necessary. Michigan's Governor and Attorney General even tried to get the initiative thrown off the ballot, showing disdain for the 700,000 state residents who signed petitions to qualify the measure.
“Corporate special interests have spent millions and will spend millions more to try and silence our voice to negotiate for fair wages, benefits and working conditions that benefit us all, ” says Cheryl Weston, RN, member of the Michigan Nurses Association which has been active in the campaign for Proposal 2. “We the people will not be silenced and will continue to advocate for our profession, our patients and our communities."If you wonder why it is necessary to go to the ballot to defend the constitutional right of workers to organize and bargain collectively through labor unions, meet the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and their legion of wealthy corporate funders, like the Koch brothers.
ALEC, with the ample help of corporate lobbyists like the Chamber of Commerce, and court decisions like Citizens United, which gave corporations unlimited authorization to dominate elections, have spurred a growth of attacks on unions and workers across the land.
Michigan has been a particular target, as evidenced by draconian laws such as its emergency manager law allowing unelected officials to overturn local elections and union contracts.
A central focus of their efforts is what is deceptively labeled “right to work” laws which prohibit unions from negotiating agreements with employers that require everyone in a work setting who benefits from union representation to contribute their fair share in union dues.
Today 23 states have such laws. ALEC, which writes model anti-union laws and peddles it to legislators it influences around the U.S., and others like them, hope to extend “right to work” laws to half a dozen other states or more after November.
While this push has escalated in the past few years, it’s been a campaign going back decades with the rise of what is known as neo-liberal policies emphasizing deregulation of corporate activity (which led to, among other things, the Wall Street malfeasance the produced the current recession), privatization of public services, and unlimited corporate power, best achieved by weakening working people and their unions.
The story of declining union membership is well chronicled by now. Since 1983, just after President Reagan gave the attacks a big hand by firing union air traffic controllers seeking to protect their standards, unionization has declined by 40 percent.
If you think that just affects unions, think again. The past four decades also coincide with a massive chasm in income inequality and transfer of resources from working people and their families to corporate board rooms and millionaires and billionaires. The demagogic politicians so quick to mock anyone proposing increased taxes on the wealthy are more than happy with this redistribution of national resources.
The arrival of Labor Day is the annual moment when some call attention to what’s happened to the collective voice of workers. One little noted report this year, by the Economic Policy Institute, noted the appropriate links.
From 1973 to 2007, declining union membership accounted for one-third of the wage inequality for men and one-fifth for women. Overall, there is a “union wage advantage” of 13.6 percent for those workers covered by a collective bargaining contract, said EPI.In other words, there is a direct correlation between corporate attacks on unions and stagnating wages and income inequality. It’s also why Wall Street firms and big corporations have made destroying unions such a centerpiece of their agenda.
In the past 42 years, since 1970, the real hourly wage increase for American workers has jumped from $8.72 to, as of July, 2012, $8.75, a massive leap of 3 cents, while corporate profits have zoomed, and the gap between CEO pay and worker pay has exploded.
But, increasingly, working people are fighting back, with efforts like Michigan Proposal 2. And many similar campaigns yet to come.