Now that labor has been squashed, the right’s next moves in Michigan includes draconian anti-abortion laws and, sit down for this one, loosening the restriction on concealed weapons in places like churches and schools to please the gun lobby.
While liberals were busy gloating over their electoral victory and crowing about the demise of the right, Grover Norquist, the Koch Brothers, and company were busy going for blood—democracy be damned. Despite getting spanked at nearly every level, the plutocratic wrecking crew kept their eyes on the prize and jammed through a “right to work” law in Michigan, exacting sweet revenge on the Democrats and their labor allies.
The allegedly defeated right did this despite President Obama’s visit to Detroit where he assailed “right to work” by saying:
We should do everything we can to keep creating good middle-class jobs that help folks rebuild security for their families . . . And by the way, what we shouldn’t do — I’ve just got to say this — what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions. We shouldn’t be doing that. The so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws — they don’t have to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.
This statement stood in stark contrast to Obama’s near total silence during the recent assault on collective bargaining in Wisconsin, Ohio, and elsewhere, but it did little good. Indeed with the encouragement of Grover Norquist, funding from the Koch brothers, and a legislative template straight out of the ALEC playbook, it took Michigan Republicans all of two days to do a slam dunk in the President’s face and crush labor in the state that is the cradle of modern unionism.
Obama and the national Democratic Party didn’t do anything to follow up the President’s statement, but, if they know what’s good for them, they should. As I have mentioned before in this column, the assault on labor is, as Karl Rove has openly argued, one of the right’s most effective ways to defeat the Democrats even as the country’s demographics betray them. Gut unions and you gut union political spending and destroy a big part of the Democrats’ ground game. This, combined with the assault on voting rights and direct democracy, is a way to stave off the death of the Southern strategy by turning rust belt Democratic strongholds red.
Without union spending in the mix, the only big money coffers in American politics come from the very large pockets of the mega-rich and corporations. Unions are already outspent 15-1, but you can bet that the right would prefer to transform that unlevel playing field into a totally rigged game. As the last election shows, money can be beaten by solid organization. Take away the means to do that and the Democrats will be in sorry shape once the historically unique Obama for America operation is no more.
So will the national Democrats rally to labor? Sadly, the answer is most likely no. For those of you waiting for Obama to follow up his bold statement on “right to work” with more rhetorical and/or political support for the staggering labor movement, just ask Susan Rice how far Obama will go to have your back after he talks tough. Indeed, the true purpose of his trip to Detroit was to rally the country around his plan for austerity lite. If I were a betting man, I’d say there’s a better chance that the face of hope cedes far too much to the right in a budget deal that disappoints the base than there is of him magically transforming himself into FDR. Time will tell.
So let’s just say the giddy dancing on the grave of the Republican Party is premature.
What this all means for the average American worker is that austerity is the new normal. The bipartisan consensus that the debt crisis is more important than the continuing unemployment crisis does not bode well for the economic future of working people. As Paul Krugman recently pointed out:
The American economy is still, by most measures, deeply depressed. But corporate profits are at a record high. How is that possible? It’s simple: profits have surged as a share of national income, while wages and other labor compensation are down. The pie isn’t growing the way it should — but capital is doing fine by grabbing an ever-larger slice, at labor’s expense.
And, as Krugman goes on to explain, this is not about a lack of education, as the wage gap between educated and less educated workers is no longer increasing. Hence, the New Democrats’ central emphasis on the bogus panacea of corporate education reform misses the point. As opposed to the elite argument that American workers are simply not educated or efficient enough, the truth is that they are more educated and work longer, harder, and more productively for less money than ever before. The dual forces of technological innovation and monopoly power are what are fueling our persistent unemployment problem, stagnant wages, and intransigent economic inequality.
While technological innovation is increasing profit and not outsourcing but eliminating jobs, it is joined by “increasing business concentration,” which, as Krugman points out, “could be an important factor in stagnating demand for labor, as corporations use their growing monopoly power to raise prices without passing the gains on to their employees.” This economic power shift has been accompanied by a top-down political class war aimed at enshrining the new inequality. What “right to work” laws do is ensure lower wages and less economic and political power for working people. That’s the point. This is a grim picture indeed and nobody is talking about it because in the halls of power this economic reality is invisible.
Politically, most of the Democrats have no better answers to this than the Republicans as they have bought the same neoliberal economic doctrine that created our situation. Indeed, there are even some New Democrats like Cory Booker and Rahm Emanuel that have already abandoned the old economic populism of the party completely in favor of a full-throated corporate liberalism that comes with its own anti-union stance.
But that will bring little comfort to the once proud working class of Michigan who are stuck with a government run by the Koch brothers and ALEC. Now that labor has been squashed, the right’s next moves in Michigan includes draconian anti-abortion laws and, sit down for this one, loosening the restriction on concealed weapons in places like churches and schools to please the gun lobby.
Insane as this is, it will continue all over the country until we push our politics to a place where we have leaders who will doggedly stand up to the new robber barons with more than the momentary rhetorical flourish. If not, we’ll be left with more government by corporate fiat whenever the opportunity arises. State by state, bit by bit, the push is towards ever-increasing corporate power and less and less power for the average person. As one angry Michigan lawmaker put it in the midst of his futile attempt to stop the Koch brothers’ coup, “This is where democracy goes to die.”
Postscript: Good thoughts to my union brothers and sisters in the Newtown Federation of Teachers who helped save the lives of many children in Connecticut last Friday along with the first responders. And peace to the loved ones of the victims.