The Oligarchs’ Coup in Michigan

michigan right to workWith the stroke of a pen Michigan Governor Rick Snyder reduced the earning potential of millions of people, lowered the quality of the state’s schools and government services, and set up the next fiscal crisis when, lo and behold, they discover that low-wage workers have little means to pay taxes adequate to meet the basic needs of the state.

The only thing these new labor laws in Michigan accomplish is to create conditions where the majority of working people in the state toil just as hard and just as productively as they did before the laws were passed, but for less money.

Reducing the incomes of most people in the state only means that the tax base of local communities will take a hit, the schools will be crummier, the services and infrastructure will be crappier, the industrial accidents will be more frequent and workplace safety conditions will be more dangerous. But the big corporations will be happy as jaybirds because they can pay their non-union workers poverty wages.

I guess in the coming months we’ll see how many people in Michigan really have accepted the Republicans’ disingenuous and bogus notion that it would be a good thing for the state to force everyone to earn less money.

The pro-oligarchy propaganda spewing forth from Michigan’s corporate overlords and their front groups like “Americans for Prosperity” must have been pretty effective to convince enough people last month to defeat a union-backed measure that would have protected collective bargaining rights.

States are “laboratories” and the data is in: In the now 24 “right-to-work” states in this great nation the average earnings of citizens drops about $6,000 a year, the average spending per pupil in public schools falls about $2,700, and the number of workplace accidents increases about 50 percent.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and “Americans for Prosperity” and their minions put forth an easy to follow blueprint:

  • Step One: Create a fiscal crisis by blocking any new taxes in the nihilistic spirit of Grover Norquist (despite changing economic conditions).
  • Step Two: Blame “spending” and the “lavish” salaries and pensions of state workers for the fiscal crisis.
  • Step Three: Drive wedges between working people in the private sector (who corporations have been beating down for decades), and public sector workers who until recently had generally lower pay but greater job security. (This tactic is what the 19th Century Robber Baron Jay Gould called “hiring one-half of the working class to kill off the other half.”)
  • Step Four: Push all manner of “right-to-work” type “reforms” with the intent of lowering everybody’s pay. After all, this outcome is what the billionaires and millionaires have been paying their politicians to do in the first place.
  • Step Five: After the “right-to-work (for less)” handiwork is complete divide and conquer the larger public sector unions and the smaller ones and make them fight over an ever-shrinking share of the government pie. (Governor Snyder did this trick by cleaving off the Police and Firefighters and making sure “right-to-work” didn’t apply to them.)
  • Step Six: Ram through more new laws that reduce labor’s power. Cut corporate taxes and taxes on the rich and deregulate so corporations spend less of their profits on wages and dealing with environmental and legal restrictions while they exploit the people and plunder the resources of the state.

In short, the whole thing is just a big scam to line the pockets of the wealthy and the corporations, most of which are headquartered outside of Michigan (or outside the United States). The “right-to-work” push we’re now dealing with across the nation has been the Republican/Corporate wet dream for decades. They’ve cynically used the disorientation and weakening of workers’ position due to the economic crisis and high long-term unemployment to fuck workers. We’ve seen this movie before: It’s called the 1890s.

So, the fight is on. The reversion to 19th Century labor practices in Michigan shows us that at this moment in time the labor unions in this country have their backs pressed up against the wall. If a state like Michigan, the birthplace of industrial unionism in America, can ram through this kind of anti-union legislation then it can happen anywhere.

All of the nation’s labor unions – industrial unions, craft unions, service unions, teachers and nurses unions, police and firefighters, correctional officers and clerical workers, all of them, now have no choice but to throw everything they got into a determined effort to organize low-wage workers across the nation.

Joseph Palermo

The new labor movement has already started with the first-ever action by Wal-Mart workers on “Black Friday” and with Fast Food workers in New York City standing up for their right to organize. Here’s where the Occupy Wall Street movement’s “horizontal” structure can really shine. By joining forces with the unionists who are organizing low-wage workers OWS can reemerge as a cohesive and vital piece of a broader progressive coalition. One thing has not changed since the 19th Century: labor unions are still on the front line of the class struggle.

Joseph Palmero
Joseph Palermo’s Blog

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Published by the LA Progressive on December 12, 2012
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).