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Here We Go Again… Labor Battle Looms in Middle West

Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio made headlines in 2011 with their fights against unions in their states. Walker won but was weakened; Kasich lost. Scarcely three days into the new year, Indiana is carrying this tradition into the new year with a debate over a right-to-work law that may reach the Statehouse by February. The Times reports:

The thunderclouds are gathering first here in Indiana. The leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature say that when the legislative session opens on Wednesday, their No. 1 priority will be to push through a business-friendly piece of legislation known as a right-to-work law. […]

Right-to-work is also a potent political symbol that carries serious financial consequences for unions. Corporations view such laws as an important sign that a state has policies friendly to business. Labor leaders say that allowing workers to opt out of paying any money to the union that represents them weakens unions’ finances, bargaining clout and political power.

Organized labor has vowed to fight the Indiana bill, which it says would turn the state into the “Mississippi of the Midwest.” If the legislation passes, Indiana would become the first state to have such a law within the traditional manufacturing belt, a union stronghold that stretches from the Midwest to New England. Right-to-work laws exist in 22 states, almost all in the South and West, with Oklahoma the most recent to pass one, in 2001.

The blue model battles continue to rage across the country, and nowhere have they been more dramatic or contentious than in the union-heavy, declining states of the rust belt. While the Indiana fight is a bit different from those in nearby Wisconsin and Ohio — public sector and private sector unions pose very different problems, right-to-work isn’t a union-killer, Mitch Daniels has a steadier hand than the neighboring governors and Indiana has a streak of Southern conservatism its neighbors lack — the debate over the power of unions and the future of jobs in the state remains the focal point. One thing is clear, however — the fight over the blue model and the future of organized labor will only get more intense in 2012.

Look for labor to throw everything it has into the 2012 elections at the national level. Loss of the White House, with Republican control of the Senate looking likely, would deal the labor movement a staggering blow.

The overall pattern is almost fifty years old and suggests that while labor wins some high profile battles, it is losing the war.  That doesn’t have to happen, but the labor movement (like many other American institutions) will have to reinvent itself in the 21st century to survive.  So far, its leaders are fighting fundamental change as hard as they are fighting the GOP.

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  • Bob in VA

    It’s not the union members that aren’t willing to reinvent themselves, it’s their shop bosses, stewards, and reps at the top of the union food change scared to death of losing those great perks and power over Democrat politicians!

  • Paul from SA

    Workers should not be required by the gov’t to give their wages to the Democrat party or to Democrat candidates or to support Democrat issues — thru labor unions.

    Eliminating public sector unions and weakening or reducing private sector unions is probably the best job-creation action we can take to fix our economy.

    Labor unions today exist as a political campaign contribution system for the Democrat party. They also provide human drones to work registration and voter fraud for the Democrat party. They also provide the human drones for protesting and rioting for the benefit of the Democrat party.

  • moderateGuy

    Considering how anti-jobs, particularly blue-collar jobs Obama is, welfare of its members is clearly not on the agenda of “labor” movement.

  • Bill in Texas

    Unions are fundamentally bad for America. Unions have killed every industry they have been associated with – no one can state a business sector with union workers that has grown, become more cost-effective and competitive. Union’s breed corruption and greed unlike anything mankind has ever seen. Union officials are the only ones that benefit from unions with their six-figure incomes and ridiculous retirement plans while the rank-and-file struggle to make ends meet. But this battle must be fought by the rand-and-file, they have to recognize the raw deal they are getting and kick the Mobsters out of their leadership. I encourage everyone to by American – but please buy from non-union businesses.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Anti-Trust the Labor Gangs, why should they get special extortion priviledges and not the rest of us? All monopolies are bad, even the Government monopoly, because they lack the feedback of competition that forces continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price.

  • Ryan

    You people are all sad excuse for humans and poster children for being greedy. Don’t you get it that if you make the country unlivable for the poor, then they are just going to organize, come to your house and kill you, and then take your stuff. Don’t you get that?

  • nicky

    Money talks..why would Republicans be friendly to labor unions when they are openly pro Democrat party. My union has already endorsed the president and the Republicans are still sorting out who going to run. Of course the Republicans are not friendly to the unions..there is not even a pretense to non partisanship. The unions are not seen as worker friendly and on occasion do stupid things as seen in Wisconsin last year. Most private sector workers apparently do not see the unions as being on their side; why the low membership?
    The ‘jobs bill’ supported by the president has the appearance of an incestuous relationship…the public sector unions’ jobs are saved and they provide money to the Democratic coffers..both sides feeding the other.

  • Bert

    Unions have destroyed American manufacturing. Just look at Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Kia, Hyundai all making cars here in the USA without the help of unions. All these companies are very successful, coincidence I think not.

  • crankyoldlady

    Unions can help unorganized workers at the low end of the wage ladder get better compensation packages and working conditions. Once a threshold is reached however, unions seem to end up costing workers through adversarial bargaining and encouraging uniformity over achievement. At that point unions need to transform themselves but too often don’t see a need to change a formula that has worked for them in the past.

  • Dave H

    Wait, I’m confused. How is Indiana not already the Mississippi of the Midwest?

  • Darby

    Interestingly the unions ONLY throw a fit in the states controlled by the GOP. They made changes in MA and RI and where were the big protests? There were none. They are only interested in fighting this issue when it is the GOP in control. Democrats have faced little opposition from the unions. See it for what it is, proxy battles for the Democratic party using union money to do it. All the more reason to choke off their funds.

  • Joe Blake

    I am old enough to remember the Ohio 1958 election which was a referendum on Right to Work. The unions won that year by wide margins and defeated the entire GOP ticket. It shaped my views for the GOP. My Dad was a Right to Work supporter. In 1960 Ohio reversed itself and gave Nixon his biggest win. I have often wondered what might have happened to the rust belt if the 58 referendum had gone the other way. The Clayton Act exempts unions from anti trust laws and may well be the real problem. Likewise the power of members to withhold their dues for political purposes should be strengthened. It is hard to do that.

  • Kris

    Ryan@6, don’t be too hard on us; we obviously don’t believe the drivel we’re spouting. We only write what we do because of the thirty pieces of silver we’re paid by the 1% in order to propagate their immoral agenda. I’m not proud about what I’m doing, but I have to keep my 7 children fed, and Tiny Tim’s medication is expensive. Not to mention that the cardboard box we call a home has started leaking.

    I urge you to be cautious. After all, if we make things too inconvenient for the rich, then they are just going to organize private armies and provide God’s downtrodden children with a whiff of grapeshot.

    What tragic times we live in! If only I could save enough money to build a raft and escape to Cuba…

  • SouthOhioGOP

    “Unions have destroyed American manufacturing. Just look at Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Kia, Hyundai all making cars here in the USA without the help of unions. All these companies are very successful, coincidence I think not.”

    That is the problem the Unions have. They don’t want companies to be successful. They want them to be barely profitable socialist entities controlled by the “Worker’s Party”.

    In the rest of the world Labor Unions do not have an adversarial relationship with their companies, that is solely an American “tradition”.

  • Doug

    Public sector unions represent one of the greatest conflicts of interest in our society today. Taxpayers are forced to pay higher wages as well as union dues which go to unions who lobby Democrats to give away more taxpayer dollars. FDR and Jimmy Carter were both against public sector unions for these very reasons. Corrupt Democrats simply use union members and by extension, taxpayers, to fill their campaign coffers.

  • Anthony

    Globalization of production has played an increasing role in Labor Unions losing popular support – Labor Unions viewed as obstacle to capital progress. Yet, Labor Unions have been central to American middle class prosperity since 1930s (Wagner Act); now, contemporaneous forces as WRM intimates require Labor and Unions to rethink organizational role in 21st century capitalism – world-wide markets and labor resources. Organized labor as an institution needs to reinvent….

  • Bart

    Workers’ have a right to organize a union and negotiate with owners. However, this right certainly hinders capital investment in the US. For capital intensive businesses, management can’t negotiate with workers until after the plant is built and workers are hired. There is no way to get future workers to precommit to working conditions and wages before you build the facility. Even when workers are willing to take a job for $15/hr., after they are hired, they can organize and demand $30. At this point, the plant is already built, and the owners’ investment is difficult or impossible to recoup. Capitalists are better off investing in countries where the workers can’t organize and renegotiate after the investment is made. Eventually, unions kill investment in capital intensive industries.

    Public sector unions are better protected because the employers are governments that are tied to a geographic region. The Illinois state government can’t move to Texas or Brazil, but Illinois companies can.

  • Stephen Greer

    Please don’t lump all upper Midwest states with a “declining” label. A few of the governors of these states have been on a reform binge; it will take some time to turn their respective ships around. For one, Gov. Daniels has already been doing so in Indiana since the mid-2000’s.

    In Michigan, Gov. Snyder has instituted many reforms just in the last year including: The tax code; state spending; regulation & bureaucracy; education (tenure reform, charter expansion, state test cut scores); state gov’t benefit reform; local gov’t reform; and more. It will take more time for us in MI b/c we were further behind when we started but this governor is very serious about making up for lost time.

    The real issue is what is being done now to fix these states versus the stay-the-course mentality of CA; IL; NY; and others on a slow-burn road to ruin.

    (Note: We in MI have been discussing a right-to-work law but have bypassed it for now. An entitlement mentality is an issue of individual human character, so I don’t believe a RTW law will alter that immediately or over the medium term. With a healthy, vibrant economy this attitude will change over the long-term, however, given the right reforms.)

  • taek kenn

    In answer to Ryan. It is the unions that are greedy. And greediness, which is one of the deadly sins will eventually kill the golden goose for them. However the union bosses are so greedy with their ridiculous paychecks they will suck on the [teat] of the public as long as they can. They will fiddle while Rome burns.

  • Joe Lammers

    “You people are all sad excuse for humans and poster children for being greedy. Don’t you get it that if you make the country unlivable for the poor, then they are just going to organize, come to your house and kill you, and then take your stuff. Don’t you get that?”

    Making companies non-competitive and ultimately bankrupting them does nothing to help the poor. As for being greedy, the unions have shown a good deal of greediness over the last few decades. That is a major reason for their decline. As for public sector unions (where they remain strong) they exist by feeding off the taxpayer.

  • ChrisP

    Bill from Texas is wrong. America’s five class one railroads are all union. The industry is competitive, expanding, and extremely profitable. It’s members (many republican) make upper five – lower six figure incomes. BTW, check’em out, most are hiring.

  • tpaine

    Indiana will enact its “right to work” law without even a whimper because the people of Indiana are smarter than the folks in Ohio – apparently.
    So redo your recall and referendum threats and let’s see what the voters of Indiana decide.

  • WingsFaninNM

    I fail to see what Right to Work laws have to do with “making the country unlivable for the poor” Ryan. They can organize and come to my house, but they’d better be well armed if they want to kill me and take my stuff.
    I have managed to make way more than a livable wage on my own, without help from labor unions, and in most places where I’ve had to work side-by-side with union folks, they impeded my ability to get a job done.
    Davis-Bacon has added untold billions of dollars of cost to Government projects that could have been done far cheaper. We have intentionally funneled money into the pockets of Unions that they funnel into the pockets of Democrats.
    If you’d like to see what Labor Unions working with Democrats can do for a place, take a long, hard look at Detroit. I left that city 32 years ago because GM was laying off, Ford was laying off, and Chrysler got bankrupted by the Unions the FIRST time. The voters, leadership, and managers of businesses there didn’t learn and had to get hit with with the same hammer 30 years later….this time the Unions managed to get Chrysler AND GM.
    The Right to Work IS a Human Right, and no one has a right to insist that I pay them to negotiate for me if I didn’t ask them to.

  • mommylinda

    The Democrats are not pro-union. They are pro-public union. They think that it is where the money is, and they are right.
    The private sector union members represent such a small number of employees that they have become insignificant.

  • David

    The law should be called right to fire, right to underpay, right to exploit anything but right to work – unemployed people of no such right

  • Sparky222

    “…but the labor movement (like many other American institutions) will have to reinvent itself in the 21st century to survive.” This is a fact but the Union bosses are just like the Establishment Dem’s and Rep’s, stuck in 1930’s industrial era thinking. It’s up to us to drag them kicking and screaming into the present.

  • Frank


    You make as much sense as an OWS protester (which is none at all). The article is about right to work laws in Indiana. What does that have to do with making the country “unlivable for the poor”? And their going to come to our houses, take our stuff and kill us. Wow! You are really delusional. Open up your mind for a moment and try to free it from the OWS/Liberal atrophe–if there are more companies moving to Indiana because of business friendly laws, there will be more jobs and less poor to begin with. I know it doesn’t fit your little narrative, but please put your thinking cap on.

  • alex scipio

    Labor unions are a relic from the Industrial Age. America now is in the Information Age. Those who don’t get that are just not paying attention.

    Private sector employees figured this out and, with the realization that unions bring them nothing not already codified, have been bailing on unions for decades. Public sector unions, which even FDR was against, were legalized by JFK as a way for a continual govt-run increase in DNC coffers to the benefit of DNC pols at the expense of the taxpayer.

    No reason in the world exists to allow governments to require a bribe to an organization – any organization, including a union – to have the right to work in America. And that’s all union dues are, especially when withheld by the force of government, non-voluntarily: Bribes for the right to hold a job.

    Private sector employees must have the freedom to decide if they want to join a union, and RTW does not preclude unions, only the involuntary nature of them. Public sector unions must be outlawed as they are an incestuous collection agent for policies the individual employee may or may not agree with, and very un-democratic.

  • Patrick Cobb


    Why shouldn’t companies have the right to fire. You have the right to quit. I have worked in a union environment in a right to work state. When I didn’t join a union leader came to meet with me. He said that if I was ever in trouble at work I would not be provided with union council when I met with management. I told him I came from a long line of people who actually worked for a living and assured him that unlike his lazy union employees management would have no problems with my work. I was right, I worked there 5 years until I quit for another higher paying(still non-union) job. I saw many a union worker doing as little as possible and occasionally being saved by their union rep. I find my life to be rewarding because I educated myself and then took pride in my work. More union people should try that.

  • Toni

    @Jacksonian Libertarian:

    I think unions violate our First Amendment right “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

    Workers who don’t want to join a union are being forced *by government* into an economic assembly and forced to pay for it. How can they get “a redress of grievances” over union membership from the same government?

    I wish some worker(s) would sue the federal and state governments on this basis.

    Does anyone know whether this approach has been pursued?

  • valwayne

    The democrats and the unions will fight freedom for American workers with all they have. They want the ability to force every American to belong to a unions, force them to pay union dues, and force them to support billions in campaign donations for the democrats. Let’s hope the people of Indiana choose freedom!!!

  • Toni


    The big railroads are all union because they they grew up that way. They were nationalized in WWI and WWII because of their importance, and later, unions used strikes to shut them down. Federal oversight has been unfortunately necessary.

    Globalization feeds imports to these shores, and trains are required to carry the goods onward. So they’re hiring in spite of, not because, they’re unionized.

  • JungleCogs

    Squash the unions at every opportunity; they are nothing more than legal mafia and just as evil.

  • craig

    I am a member of a union in a state where my dues are automatically deducated. In the end it is really just another tax. I think though if people had to pay for unions voluntarilly they would be much more responsive to the needs of workers. Under the current system they are just political action committees.

  • Luke Lea

    Auto workers are now making $14/hour, half what they used to make. What’s to complain about?

    Low standards of living drive out high standards. Immigration from Mexico, trade with Mexico and China, those are two of the major factors, and they will keep on giving until we end them.

    The principal selfish interest in unimpeded immigration is easy to identify: it is the interest of the employers of cheap labor, particularly that need for degrading jobs.

    Working Americans need to organize to protect their and their childrens’ standard of living. Or does the venerable Mead beg to disagree? Is he high Anglican?

  • Luke Lea

    Unions may not be such a hot idea, but the notion that America’s working-classes as a whole do not need to organize to defend their interests is a mistake that will come back to bite 90 percent of the people commenting on this blog. Unlimited trade with China and immigration from Mexico by themselves can destroy this country. They already are. Only a privileged few will escape, behind high walls. The future is California. Look at it and weep.

  • Luke Lea

    Shakespeare wrote, “First, we shoot all the lawyers.” To which I would add investment bankers and economists.

  • Rick

    I support any action that gets rid of government unions, and any action that stops all unions from siphoning off dues to support Democrats. Union members can contribute whatever they want, union bosses get nothing for political activities. If they can’t accept this reasonable compromise, then get rid of unions, period.

  • joe

    I can’t believe what im hearing all this union bashing.All of you who are bashing the unions enjoy your weekends,holidays,paid vacations,and you think those were handed to you on a silver plater ithink not 40 hour 8 hour work day think again before bashing unions because if it was up to the corporations they would take all those things away from you.So remember if we get rid of unions in this country we all suffer not just union people but non-union people alike working for minimum wage and but then again thats a typical republican policy.Also people mentioned union greed they convienietly left out corporate greed which is alot more prevelant than union greed don’t take my word for it just look at the wage gap between c.e.os and the average worker and you people have the audacity to say public sector employees make a bundle of money absolutley not true.And you their so-called gold plated pension plans(again which is not true)when the c.e.os come away with golden parahutes of millions of dollars when they leave the corporation in some capacity either by leaving on thier own or getting fired now thats what i call an outrage.

  • joe

    Without unions we would see a decimation of the middle class which is already under siege by the republicans.

  • a nissen

    My, how Tweedledum and Tweedledee so easily keep us off scent and in such hostile camps that we are either incapable of, or ineffective at forthrightly comparing notes, getting on scent, and joining forces were it counts. So what if lemmings come in two varieties, they are still lemmings. And what does it matter who “leads” the headlong rush to destruction?

    Blogs such as this offer an opportunity to be humans, not lemmings, at least that is my hope, reduced, of late, to “realistic hope.”

  • Kenny

    Hey Joe, unions are not the middle class. Union members make up but a tiny segment of the middle class – and they’re the segment that leeches off the rest.

  • The Riviera Times

    All the best,

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