Broken Clouds 56° Good Afternoon
Broken Clouds 56° Good Afternoon

Jackson: In Michigan, the battle for the American dream

About a dozen members of the Michigan Nurses

About a dozen members of the Michigan Nurses Association stand on the state Capitol steps in Lansing, Mich. protesting right-to-work legislation. (Dec. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

Today, thousands will demonstrate at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing to protest a frontal assault on working people. Republican majorities in the state House and Senate have vowed to jam through right-to-work (for less) legislation this week. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who originally said this wasn't part of his agenda, has flip-flopped and said he would sign the legislation. To protect the legislation from a popular referendum, Republicans have grafted an appropriation to it, since state laws ban any direct popular vote on an appropriation bill.

This Republican assault on working people and their unions will trigger a brutal and divisive struggle. Michigan is the home of the United Autoworkers; it rose to prosperity as a union state. Unions represent nearly 18 percent of the work force, the fifth-highest percentage in the country. Workers won't take this assault quietly, nor should they.

This legislation really calls for "the right to work for less money," as President Obama put it yesterday in Radford. Right-to-work laws were devised by corporations to weaken labor unions. They took root in the segregated South. The laws allow workers to benefit from union-negotiated wages and benefits without joining the union or paying union dues. In states with these laws, workers suffer lower wages, fewer benefits and less security because unions are weaker.

Gov. Snyder's office released a statement suggesting that the laws would help the state attract investment: "it's the next step for signaling to job creators . . . that Michigan is open for business."

The governor wants Michigan to enter the race to the bottom by crushing workers, giving corporations tax breaks, rolling back environmental and workplace protections and lowering the minimum wage to attract companies

In the U.S., this assault on workers has reduced unions from representing about 30 percent of the private workforce to less than 10 percent. The result has been devastating to the American middle class, and ruinous to our economy. When unions were strong, America enjoyed its fastest growth, building a strong middle class that drove demand for products. Now, with unions weak, corporate profits are at the highest levels of GDP on record -- worker wages at the lowest levels. The middle class is disappearing; inequality is at Gilded Age extremes. And the economy sputters, since families with declining wages and security can't provide the demand needed to generate growth and jobs.

For decades, well-funded corporate fronts have argued that unions are the reason America is not competitive. Now unions are weak; the wealthiest 1 percent has captured 93 percent of the income growth over the last years coming out of the recession; corporations, enjoying record profits, are sitting on more than a trillion dollars in assets looking for customers. The American dream is becoming an unrealistic fantasy for more and more working people.

But the corporate-funded conservatives are pushing for even more. They want to destroy unions and roll back worker pensions and health care benefits. They are pushing to cut Medicare and Social Security to reduce deficits racked up by Wall Street when its excesses blew up the economy.

In Michigan and across the country, Americans are starting to wake up. We are at the beginning of what will be an increasingly fierce struggle in this country to reclaim our democracy and to revive the American dream. In November, we came together to reject the brazen attempt of the billionaires to buy our elections and elect Mitt Romney, a candidate by, for and of the 1 percent. We are mobilizing to defend Medicare and Social Security, while demanding that the rich pay their fair share of taxes. In Michigan, as in Ohio and Wisconsin, we will organize to counter the corporate drive to crush workers and their unions.

These disparate struggles are all one. They will define whether America remains a land of opportunity or becomes a land of entrenched privilege.

It is time for citizens of conscience to stand up.