Imagine. Michigan, America’s heartland of unionism, is now a right-to-work state. Michigan, the location of Detroit and the United Auto Workers, is now the 24th state to declare, “In this state you may not require workers to join a union in order to work at your plant.” The bold action of the Michigan legislature and governor is a body blow to the union movement. The fact that this occurred in Michigan means that across the nation unions are on the ropes.
And wouldn’t you know, union members are not taking it sitting down. In spite of the fact that right-to-work is now Michigan law, auto workers, teachers, and other unionists are filling the streets, the state Capitol, and the lawn of the governor’s residence. In fact, because of teachers taking off to go protest, two Michigan school districts have had to close. As unseemly as it is, Michigan teachers are now marching, shouting, clamoring, and screaming, instead of teaching.
Let me take that back. They are teaching. They are teaching their young charges back at the school buildings they abandoned that if you don’t get your way, even after a legitimate vote by a duly elected representative body, you scream, shout and get violent instead of attempting to change the vote another day through legitimate processes. They are teaching liberalism’s way, which is to mount legal challenges, keep things in court and never accept the will of voters.
All of this to-do hearkens back to 1947 when Congress, overcoming President Truman’s veto, passed the Taft-Hartley Act. This act became a ball and chain to the labor movement, restricting certain union activities and angering many Democrats, among them Truman himself who famously called the act the “slave labor act.” One of the principal objections to it was that it allowed states to pass “right-to-work” laws, meaning that individual states could make it illegal to require union membership for employment.
Many states, mostly the less industrial Southern ones, passed such laws right away. The more industrial states did not, until recently, since they had larger union memberships and unions were a strong, powerful, and well-heeled lobby. Traditionally, therefore, unionism has thrived in the northern states and languished in the South.
My education in these matters began in 1975. At the time, I was a member of the Georgia Association of Educators. GAE was a good organization, even though it was affiliated with the National Education Association. The NEA was not at the time a declared union, though it was tending in that direction.
In 1975, NEA required all of its affiliates to “unify,” meaning that if you joined your state association you also had to join NEA. GAE agreed to the unification idea, and shortly after, to no one’s surprise, NEA declared itself a union and a bonafide part of the labor movement.
Thenceforth, things got bad. GAE/NEA became less of an educational organization and more of an arm of the Democratic Party. Fellowshipping with other teachers to learn how to become better teachers was replaced by marching with other teachers in support of gay rights (for just one example). Stridency soon reigned. Many Georgia teachers, some from Cobb County, resisted this politicizing of their educational organization and spoke up. They spoke up against collective bargaining and against strident union tactics.
A new association was formed that openly opposed the union model. It has been extremely successful. While this organization, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, may have faults, unionism is not one of them. The organization continues to eschew collective bargaining and to spend its considerable resources on teacher training, student achievement, and school enhancement. Suffice it to say that PAGE teachers, unlike the loud screamers in Michigan, have stayed close to the heart and wishes of Georgia voters.
And why not? Why would any public or private employee organization bite the hand that feeds it? Why would any private union, or a state legislature, or a president require a person to pay dues against his will to a union he does not wish to join in order to have a job?
Quite a few well-known conservatives have been and still are union members. Social/political commentators Pat Buchanan and Michael Medved are good examples. They do not, however, favor forcing anyone to join a union in order to work. Neither should the president or anyone else.
But take heart. Because of Michigan, a blow for freedom has been struck.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator.