Political Animal


December 11, 2012 9:31 AM Ancient Battle

By Ed Kilgore

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 is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Celui on December 11, 2012 9:45 AM:

    Ed--extremely well-written article, and so much to the point. One problem, though: you forgot how to spell 'Whore-y".

  • c u n d gulag on December 11, 2012 9:45 AM:

    Wee Amurkans iz reely a teh stooooooopid peepl.
    'N we izn'r lernin'.

    And my proof for this is, if you showed chickens a bucket of his extra-crispy, and explained how they came to be that way, I don't suspect that anywhere close to 40% of them would support Col. Sanders.

    You get what you vote for, people.
    These are NOT your Daddies and Mommies Republicans.
    You need to get that through your thick skulls.

    They are Nihilists-for-hire, working for Plutocrats and Oligarchs.

  • skeptonomist on December 11, 2012 10:01 AM:

    Unions represent a threat to the pocketbooks of capitalists. They will always want to reduce labor costs, and their "ideology" follows from that. Obviously worker "choice" is a completely phony concept in this context.

  • Peter C on December 11, 2012 10:09 AM:

    Can this law be overturned by referendum like the emergency manager law?

    Perhpas we should see how Michigan feels about med-term Governor recalls?

    Over-reach like this should face a massive 'organization' movement

  • wihntr on December 11, 2012 10:23 AM:

    As bad as the Michigan law is, what bothers me a lot more is the way the GOP goes about passing these laws. This is awfully similar to what we went through here in Cheeselandia two years ago. Walker and his GOP minions didn't campaign on a platform of "if elected we will strip all (non-police and firefighter) public employee unions of any meaningful power, yet that was nearly the first thing they did as soon as they were seated. And then tried to ram the legislation through without meaningful notice or debate. The only thing that slowed the process down at all was people like me and my family crowding the capitol and making noise, and of course our Democratic senators fleeing the state for a couple weeks.

    If the Republicans played by the rules-- open campign and debate-- and prevailed, I would not like the result, but they at least would have won fair and square. But because so much of the GOP honestly believes "government is the problem" they have no respect for the rules that make for good government!

  • Napoleon on December 11, 2012 10:23 AM:


    Speaking of ALEC I bet they are behind this as well. From all appearance it looks like the Republican party plans to stage a coup in the US in broad daylight.


  • K in VA on December 11, 2012 10:38 AM:

    We need to stop treating this solely as a bosses-screwing-workers story, and equally (more?) as a Republicans-destroying-a-Democratic-constituency story.

  • Robb on December 11, 2012 10:44 AM:

    K in VA has it right.
    The Republican agenda lately has been to alter the very structure of states and the federal government to benefit oligarchy even as their ideology loses appeal.

  • kabiddle on December 11, 2012 11:02 AM:

    All the usual suspects here -- Dick and Betsey DeVos, the Koch brothers, the Mackinaw Center think tank, former gov Engler -- are also heavily invested in education "reform" as regards school vouchers, public monies for private and religious education and greater evangelical control over cirricula. Truly scary people. And oh, Rick Snyder, I used to have a bit of grudging respect for you but can only now determine that you are a slut.

  • Joe Friday on December 11, 2012 11:02 AM:

    "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."

    If Michigan has a ballot initiative like Ohio, this will likely be overturned.

    That was the problem in Wisconsin, without the ballot initiative, they resorted to a recall of the Governor, and even though a sizable majority disagreed with his agenda, enough thought that was the wrong way to go about it for it not to succeed.

  • gregor on December 11, 2012 11:34 AM:

    Who is surprised?

    The project to transform US into a 3rd world banana republic in the image of a Latin American country of the seventies as started by Ronald Reagan is right on schedule in its accomplishments.

  • Kathryn on December 11, 2012 11:47 AM:

    Can't remember the mechanism, but believe that the Michigan "soon to be law" is written in such a way as to make it impervious to ballot initiative recall. They've thought of everything, snakes. The GOP does not care one whit about public opinion, local newspaper condemnation, poll numbers in the single digits, they are fascists. The only way to deal with them is through the ballot box and grass roots efforts, massive grass roots efforts. That they will cheat is a given. Look at Boehner and Co., do they care that a sizable percentage of voters want the taxes over $250,000 to go up ever slightly, they do not.

  • Robert on December 11, 2012 12:02 PM:

    It seems our country is being invaded by our own domestic enemies...

  • Gypsy Howell on December 11, 2012 12:15 PM:

    Republicans have not exactly made a secret of their desire to gut unions, wherever and whenever they can. That's been their platform for years and years. I assume the good people of Michigan were well aware of this when they voted in republicans to run their state. You get what you vote for.

    As a Pennsylvanian, I feel the same way about the fracking disaster that's unfolding in our state, thanks to Republican guv and extractive industry whore Corbett. What did you people THINK was going to happen when you voted for him?

  • Robb on December 11, 2012 12:16 PM:

    @Joe Friday,

    Nope. They made sure to pass the bills using a parliamentary strategy that makes repeal via ballot initiative impossible.

  • Joe Friday on December 11, 2012 1:03 PM:

    Ah, they've learned from their massive defeat in Ohio.

  • T-Rex on December 11, 2012 1:18 PM:

    Snyder was interviewed on Michigan Radio this morning, and he sounded as shify, evasive and dishonest as you'd expect. The interviewer politely but firmly refused to let him wiggle out of explaining why he'd repeatedly said he had no plans to pass a "right to work" bill, only to ram it through in a lame-duck session. He tried to blame the unions, of course. He'd claimed that a) he hadn't originally planned to deal with "right to work" because it was such a "divisive issue," but then b) the wicked unions tried to amend the MI constitution with a referendum, thus bringing up this divisive issue, and thus c) forcing Snyder to break his promise to voters and keep his promise to the Koch Brothers. Oh, and he said that he'd decided to wait to see what the election would show. Of course, what the election showed was that the county favors the Democratic party and progressive policies. So -- Snyder responds to this with a "right to work" law? Of course he does -- because the "outcome of the election" meant he wouldn't be able to do it next year, and the Koch brothers want to get what they paid for.

    Snyder is a sleaze.

  • schtick on December 11, 2012 1:30 PM:

    What happened that all Republicans hate America and democracy so much? And it's not Obama getting elected. This has been going on for years.

  • James E. Powell on December 11, 2012 1:44 PM:

    The Republicans have been the enemy of pretty much everyone with a W-2 for most of my life. I expect that they will continue to be that for the rest of my life. This seems to be a pretty clear thing, so it is a puzzle to me that more people do not see it.