Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.
And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.
When he was only 28 years old, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.
The speech included Lincoln’s plea to avoid what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” He warned about an “ill-omen amongst us”–which he identified as, among other things, the “growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.”
In fact, the Young Men’s Lyceum speech deals in large part with the issue of passion vs. reason. Lincoln, like the Founders, had a deep insight into human nature, acknowledging that “jealousy, envy, and avarice” are “incident to our nature.” The basest principles of our nature, he said, “were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty” (meaning they were directed exclusively against the British nation). But at the end of his speech, Lincoln issues this warning:
The extent to which George McGovern, who died in late October, was identified with American liberalism itself can be seen in headlines of his various obituaries. CNN’s headline called him an “unabashed liberal voice”; PBS went with “Liberal Icon”; the New York Times chose “Prairie Liberal” (though the online edition dropped the word “prairie”); and the Nation called him a “Touchstone of Liberalism.” The Nation obit, written by John Nichols, proclaimed McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, “the most progressive nominee ever selected by the Democratic Party.”
McGovern, then, possessed unimpeachable liberal credentials. Yet four years before McGovern passed, the liberal blog site Firedoglake was ready to send him packing, and used the occasion to call McGovern perhaps the nastiest insult in the liberal lexicon: “Wal-Mart Lover.” What could have prompted such spite? McGovern, though a committed liberal through and through, was concerned about the growing and coercive power of unions. He felt the need to speak out against the Democrats’ proposed anti-choice legislation, card-check. McGovern chastised his party for its extremism in the Wall Street Journal:
This is why it’s absurd when people bemoan the insularity of the conservative media, as if this is a phenomenon found exclusively on the right. The left-wing blog world comes up with insane theories all the time, and the latest one–that the Americans for Prosperity tent was not ripped down by union thugs in Michigan, but actually by AFP supporters–is a classic:
Yet this overwhelming evidence has not stopped the Lansing Truthers from claiming this all is a Koch conspiracy. Here are Hamsher’s updates to her original post, noting that one of Firedoglake’s own bloggers was spreading the conspiracy theory:
Update: Marcy Wheeler reports that “witnesses say the Americans for Prosperity people were trying to provoke union members to violence, and witnesses reportedly saw AFP people loosening the ropes on the tents so they would come down.”
Update II: Chris Savage from Eclectablog says that Americans for Prosperity tore down their own tent, and promises video soon:
Ed Schultz of MSNBC is on board helping spread the conspiracy.
Yesterday I discussed the devolution of union protests in Michigan into violence. Soon after that post, the “reported” violence against a conservative activist was confirmed when Steven Crowder posted video of the exchanges on YouTube. The video shows Crowder being punched by a man wearing union paraphernalia and–unfortunately for a man who likely wanted to remain anonymous–a satin jacket with his name embroidered on the front. Popular radio host Dana Loesch offered a reward for the identities of the men responsible for the attack on Crowder as well as the men responsible for cutting down the tent belonging to Americans for Prosperity, who were on the scene to applaud the right-to-work legislation’s passage.
The video that Crowder posted shows multiple altercations with union members and supporters and every punch appears to be thrown while Crowder wasn’t looking. Death threats were screamed after one attack and in one clip, Crowder is pulled by the collar from behind and punched before escaping the grasp of his attacker. While union supporters claim that the video is edited and that the attacks were provoked, Crowder has promised that longer and unedited footage will appear on the Sean Hannity show tonight and tweeted yesterday, “Even if you hate me, nothing I could have done warranted being suckerpunched and threatened with murder.”
Yesterday a landmark event happened in Michigan. The Wolverine State–which is not simply home of the United Auto Workers but in many respects is the birthplace of the modern labor movement–has become the 24th state to ban compulsory union fees. Workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. And if history–and other states, like Indiana–is any guide, this action will not only grant workers freedom but also attract new businesses to Michigan. (Michigan desperately needs this, since it has the sixth-highest state jobless rate in America at 9.1 percent.)
This move came after unions once again overshot, having tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution (through Proposition 2).
“Everybody has this image of Michigan as a labor state,” Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told the New York Times. “But organized labor has been losing clout, and the Republicans saw an opportunity, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”
Earlier this afternoon, lawmakers in Michigan approved right-to-work legislation for public employees 58-51, sending the bill to the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, who has been promoting the legislation and is expected to sign the bill into law. Opponents of the legislation have accused Snyder of attempting to “bust the unions.” Today on Fox News Snyder answered his critics, explaining:
If you look at unions in Michigan, they’ve done a lot of great things in our state. We’re the center of the labor movement going back in the last century. In the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, people flocked to join the unions, because they were helping with working conditions, wages, all those things. And people chose to join a union… People used to choose to join a union. Now, I don’t believe it’s appropriate to say ‘just to keep your job, you have to pay dues and be a union member.’ So basically this creates an environment where people can say they’re choosing to join a union because the unions put a value proposition to make it worth while. And if the union’s not providing a value, someone should be forced to choose. So I view this as pro-worker legislation.
Bills that would make Michigan the 24th state to adopt a right-to-work law have passed the Michigan Senate and House, both in Republican hands. If the bills are reconciled, as seems likely, the legislation will be signed by the Republican governor.
This is a remarkable event. Michigan is the fifth-most unionized state in the country, with 19.2 percent of the workforce. The United Auto Workers, born in Michigan, has been a major player in state politics for decades.