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Rarest of the rare political phenomenon: Michigan Passes Right to Work

Posted 12/12/12
by Adam de Angeli
    Tags: Michigan, Campaign for Liberty, activism, Right to Work, Gary Glenn, Rick Snyder, Randy Richardville

The pundits got everything wrong as always (generally speaking), but most of all, they missed that what happened in Lansing yesterday was utterly unprecedented. 

As Rich Lowry put it: "Michigan is to unionization what Florida is to sand, Texas is to oil, and Alaska is to grizzly bears."

It was incredible to see.  This was an event so rare that it challenges us to re-think how politics can actually work. 

Nowhere was this clearer than as I walked, safely disguised in Carhartt coat and Dickies blue-collar shirt and jeans, about the crowd at the Capitol: an awesome throng of what must have been twelve thousand people or more.  The crowd was so massive, the cellular networks jammed from the traffic and cell phones were useless.  You could not deny the sensational "people power" the unionists wield like nobody else.

The mob was hysterical.  In the Capitol rotunda, people were screaming chants of "shut it down" and "kill the bill" without pause for literally hours.  Outside, mobsters destroyed a tent, trapping two people in wheelchairs inside, while another punched a reporter.  Police repelled organizers from storming Governor Snyder's office across the street, while on a nearby stage, union officials assured the crowd they had a wonderful, beautiful, massive and diverse group.  They were searching for a positive note to console the crowd for its devastating loss.

This massive enemy force, I thought.  This massive enemy force, feared and respected for decades, brought down in one week.  How in the world did we do it?!

I thought of so many political battles, past, present, and future.  When has anything worthwhile ever been easy?

When have we ever triumphed over the forces of tyranny without an exhausting, drawn-out fight with a barely acceptable result (usually, nothing more than the protection of the status quo over something worse)?

Seriously, when has something so worthwhile ever been so easy?  

Right to Work: A Fundamental Freedom

I'll pause here because there is surely a percentage of readers here thinking, it was easy this time because you're on the wrong side.  I received a couple of negative responses to my previous blog post supporting Right to Work, and I've noticed that among the liberty movement, a lot of people don't understand Right to Work, neither as a principle nor as a policy.  So let's examine that. 

(If you don't need to know why Right to Work is good, skip down to the heading, "So What the Heck Happened?")

To begin with, let's observe that Right to Work laws are not laws of force, but rather, they repeal and restrict an existing legal force: forced-unionism.  The National Right to Work Act would not add any words to existing code, but rather, strike words out.

Forced-unionism was created by the National Labor Relations Act.  And it stipulated that, once a union is recognized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) it created under the Executive Branch, that union now has the monopoly on labor for the company it works for, and it can compel all workers for the company to pay dues or fees to it, or fire them for failure to do so. 

In other words, if an employer and employee have a private labor agreement, a third party (the union) can go to the federal government for permission to interpose itself between these two parties. 

It's worth noting that sometimes even a minority of employees may be sufficient for the NLRB to grant the union this monopoly power, but why should it be acceptable for a majority either?  Even in the minority, workers and employers have the right to free association, and a majority should not be able to take that away. 

It is apparent that forced-unionism is anathema to freedom and free markets—in this case, the labor market—because the union is a form of price control, administered by the federal government.  Forced-unionism is not "workers rights," but the opposite—the absence of a worker's right to refrain from joining a union!

If forced-unionism actually benefited workers and wages, the entire Austrian theory would crumble.  For here would be government-sanctioned force, doing good.

It doesn't, of course.  I won't re-hash the entire Austrian case here, but if you're interested, read Hutt's "Theory of Collective Bargaining," on-line here.

I should mention, though, perhaps one reason Right to Work is poorly understood by the liberty movement is because many leading libertarians take on the narrow-minded view that Right to Work should be opposed because it would, they say, also prohibit companies from voluntarily entering into closed-shop arrangements. 

This is, first of all, silly, since companies would not voluntarily enter into a contract to deny themselves their own free choice in hiring.  It is precisely because of their dependence on involuntary contracts that union officials despise Right to Work.  And second, it's not even true: unions could do this by simply taking the form of employment agencies and only offering their services as an exclusive contract. 

Remember that Right to Work legislation acts by repealing, not enacting. It acts to reduce the force of government.

All of this doesn't even touch the issue of union involvement in politics.  As the National Right to Work Committee reports:

Big Labor's officially acknowledged campaign expenditures represent just the tip of the iceberg of union electioneering, as pro-forced unionism commentator John Tasini, a union consultant and former union official, acknowledged in a February 20, 2005 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times.  

Mr. Tasini reported that several "union political experts" had admitted to him that "unions spend seven to 10 times what they give candidates and parties on internal political mobilization."

Federal reports show that, in 2009 and 2010, Big Labor contributed $58.9 million in cash to federal candidates and another $61.7 million to Big Labor-affiliated PACs. 

Following Tasini's formula, Organized Labor spent up to $1.2 billion dollars, mostly force-dues money, "on internal political mobilization" in 2009 and 2010.

A billion dollars in federal races alone.  Think of how many workers were forced to bankroll the candidates they voted against—under threat of losing their jobs.

As Thomas Jefferson said, "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”

So What the Heck Happened?

I know a lot of people at the National Right to Work Committee.  Dimitri Kesari, longtime director of governmental affairs for the two-million-member organization, was my supervisor at the Ron Paul 2012 presidential campaign.  John Tate, manager of that campaign and President of Campaign for Liberty, raised millions of dollars for them.  Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, lectured at a Campaign for Liberty grassroots leadership training event in Michigan last year.

None of them would have predicted this.  Indiana's Right to Work fight took some 8 years.  Every previous state's Right to Work fight has taken a decade or so. 

It's still almost unreal.  Right to Work fights always take years.  Because the unions are massive and massively well-funded, no politician wants to take them on. 

What happened in these states that finally led to passage was years of grassroots activism, years of pressure from the conservative movement in each state, until finally more Republicans feared the Right to Work grassroots more than the union bosses themselves.  Often, it took a few Republicans losing their seats in heated primary races.

What happened in Michigan was not this, not at all.  From conception to victory, Michigan got it done in one election cycle.  Again—unbelievable.

I didn't predict this at all.  In fact, as recently as ten days ago, I was calling the bill sponsors' bluff, saying it was all hot air.  I stand corrected. 

Yesterday, the unions were blaming everyone and anyone they could think of, from Dick DeVos, to the Koch brothers, to of all things, ALEC—a conservative think tank.  Which just goes to show, the unions were as clueless as anybody.

There was an organized push for Right to Work in Michigan, though, to be sure.  And various groups deserve some credit for what happened. 

The bill sponsors, Rep. Mike Shirkey and Sen. Pat Colbeck, sought good counsel to craft bill language that took advantage of every little esoteric rule—such as including a spending component to make the bills "referendum-proof."  Their work inside the legislature was invaluable. 

The unsung hero of the fight was Gary Glenn, a candidate for U.S. Senate during the primary race who traveled tirelessly across the state and lit brushfires in people's minds for Right to Work.  Glenn never had the resources to mount a winning campaign, but unlike other "also-rans" whose campaigns served no purpose than to stroke their own egos, Glenn was planting seeds.  He got Tea Party groups from every corner of the state fired up and passionate about Right to Work. 

Then there were the groups who mounted the support, including Campaign for Liberty, Americans for Prosperity, the Mackinac Center, MI-CPAC, and innumerable Tea Party groups.  And of course, the National Right to Work Committee itself. 

But, facing facts, none of the above groups, even combined, mounted anything remotely adequate to have brought us to victory. 

Seriously, we are talking about Union Michigan.  If a good bill and a little organized effort would be enough to pass Right to Work here, it would have been the law of the land in all 50 states, decades ago. 

We have but one group to thank for making the difference.  One group that enabled the state legislature to find the will to pass Right to Work. 

The labor unions.

Governor Snyder had always maintained that Right to Work was not on the agenda.  He was not lying.  It was a fight he didn't want to pick.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville had always maintained not only that it wasn't on his agenda, but that he would block it.  He was not lying.  He received considerable union contributions for his campaign. 

But all of that went out the window when the unions went after them on the November ballot. 

Proposal 2, which would have enshrined monopoly unionism into the Michigan Constitution, went down in flames.  It lost by a considerably worse margin than Mitt Romney.  It gave away the unions' weakness.

But the big catalyst was not Proposal 2, but Proposal 1, the referendum on the emergency manager law. 

The emergency manager law was Rick Snyder's baby.  He considered it the centerpiece of his administration.  So did many Republicans in the legislature, who considered it the most important thing they had done. 

The emergency manager law took on just one of the worst aspects of monopoly unionism: what to do when they kill their host company.  In the private sector, when unions destroy a factory, the company can relocate a plant somewhere else.  But when the unions destroy a public school district, moving is not an option. 

In Detroit, in Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Flint, and elsewhere, teacher unions had literally bankrupted the districts. Only then would the emergency manager law at last allow the state to bypass union negotiations and rebuild the schools. 

The unions spent millions of dollars—dues stolen from their forced members, of course—overturning this at the ballot. 

For Governor Snyder and the Republicans in the legislature, this was the last straw.  The unions could not be reasoned or bargained with. 

The unions did not care if they were depriving thousands of impoverished children an education.  They did not care that Snyder and Richardville were keeping Right to Work at bay, when Republicans had huge majorities in both chambers. 

The unions declared all-out war on the Republicans.

And the Republicans said, "Screw it.  They're rabid.  They can't be reasoned with.  We have nothing to lose."

And so it was, that in just one month, with only a little prodding from the grassroots, the Republican leadership did a complete 180 and passed Right to Work in a totally unprecedented maneuver. 

This Mike Flynn article, the best I've seen so far, sums it up more concisely than me:  "The new law is the direct result of an epic strategic miscalculation by the state's union bosses."

Flynn has the right conclusion, too: "There are many lessons here for conservative.  I'll just mention the most important.  Even when defeat seems littered around us, there are always opportunities for victory.  We must be ready to seize them."

© 2017 Adam de Angeli.