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January 22, 2014 1:10 PM The Unlikely Revival of Right-To-Work

By Ed Kilgore

If the anti-union Right-to-Work forces win a big victory in the U.S. Supreme Court in the Harris v. Quinn case, it will be little more remarkable than its 2012 battery of victories in Michigan. As you may recall, conservatives followed up the defeat of a union-sponsored collective bargaining rights ballot initiative with the audacious enactmentof a right-to-work law in one of the labor movement’s historic strongholds.

Andy Kroll has a major article up at MoJo chronicling the role of the DeVos family—not just Michigan’s answer to the Kochs, but in some respects their predecessor—in the RTW win and in the broader effort to smite unions on every front. The DeVos clan and their hirelings are now actively spreading their gospel to other states, notably Missouri, Illinois and New Hampshire. But first they must defend Republican control of Michigan in the 2014 midterms. Kroll quotes a MI Republican legislative leader on the national implications of their battle:

If we demonstrate that we can defend the high ground, just like Gov. Scott Walker did in Wisconsin, you give courage pills to every state legislator and every state legislature across the country.

I’d say the implications are even broader than that: if public employee unionism can be demonized in Wisconsin, and union shop contracts can be outlawed in Michigan, then the horizons of possible anti-union politics grow even wider in states where unions are virtually powerless. That’s how you wind up with Gov. Nikki Haley of SC arguing that unions, however strapped by hostile laws, shouldn’t even exist in her state.

I’m old enough to remember when Democrats regularly dreamed of repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act allowing states to pass right-to-work laws, and demanded their national candidates promise to pursue that dream. Now anti-union activists and their wealthy benefactors are dreaming of a nation where it’s illegal to require beneficiaries of union-negotiated contracts to share the costs associated with collective bargaining on their behalf. And why not dream? It happened in Michigan.

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.

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