A Tale of Two States: California -- Michigan

Robbie ColumnJanuary 2013 - This is a tale of two states - California and Michigan - that illustrates how unity and effort affect elections, and how elections affect the workers’ futures and quality of life for their families.

Here in California, the Building Trades, along with firefighters, police, service sectors, entertainment, and other organized workers, in tenacious unity, fought together with every fiber of our being for our political voices and our livelihoods, and won smashing victories last November that portend a brighter future for us all.

Sadly, the opposite has happened in Michigan, historically a strong union state. But the far right saw an opportunity in Michigan.  Running as “middle of the road” Republicans, they wooed and appealed to the values of union working people, who failed to recognize them for the threat they were. These Republican politicians won the votes of too many unionized workers, including Building Trades workers, and took over Michigan’s government.

But they were wolves in sheep’s clothing, and once in power, reverted to their true nature, taking a terrible toll on the very people that helped elect them.

Across California, in last November’s election campaign, workers made great personal sacrifices for the greater good; time away from home and family for evening phone banking and weekend precinct walking.

The result was a long and spectacular string of victories for California workers. We defeated Proposition 32, the phony reform measure aimed at silencing workers’ political voice. We passed Propositions 30 and 39, producing vital new revenue for the state and dramatically improving California’s fiscal outlook.  We won every legislative race we had hoped to, and then some, bringing two-thirds Democratic supermajorities to both the Senate and Assembly. Attacks on the Building Trades in the form of  three charter city proposals, aimed at ending prevailing wage, were all defeated. Dozens of job-creating bond issues were approved.

Building Trades workers were at the forefront of this effort, and their amazing energy and unwavering unity clearly played a pivotal role in victories that will mean a better, more prosperous future for California workers.

But as we working people are savoring our accomplishments and working for a brighter future here in California, a very different and much gloomier scenario is playing out for workers in Michigan.

In the 2010 elections, in Michigan and many other states, Republicans swept to victories, capturing the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature.  In December 2012, those Republicans made it clear that Michigan workers will pay a huge price for not keeping them out of office.

In the final hours of a lame duck session, with no public input or hearings whatsoever, both houses of the Republican-run Legislature passed what they call a “right-to-work” law, in effect wiping out the hard-won right of working people to organize and bargain for their wages and benefits collectively. Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who was elected in 2010 and has been saying ever since that he has no interest in signing a right-to-work law, immediately signed it.

Now, with their collective power shattered, Michigan workers can look forward to lower wage jobs with fewer benefits. It’s a sad fact: pay and benefits for workers in right-to-work states lag far behind those of workers in more unionized states.

I ache for those workers. But let their plight be a glaring warning. Workers must always stay united, and work tenaciously and together in the political arena to fight for their interests. Michigan workers are now paying a terrible price because they were deceived into allowing anti-worker, pro-billionaire Republicans to win elections. 

A great American civil rights and labor leader once said: “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions for everyone. Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”

Those words are more true and relevant today than ever.

Just look at California and Michigan.

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