The Agenda

Josh Kraushaar on the Right-to-Work Fight in Michigan

Josh Kraushaar of National Journal explains why 2013 and 2014 are likely to prove important for the organized labor movement:

Labor is confronting the same challenges as Republicans—its core voters are aging and its mission for much of the 20th century doesn’t match the necessities of a changing America. The new economy, filled with workers regularly switching jobs, isn’t the same as a generation ago, when most employees stuck with the same firm for life and negotiated benefits accordingly. Labor badly needs a retooling, to focus as much toward building worker-education programs to train employees for service-sector jobs as on fighting laws designed to crack down on their political power, which has been declining without any external involvement. Historian Walter Russell Mead argues that we’re undergoing a sea change in American life, the demise of what he calls the blue economic model: “The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the 60 years after the New Deal, don’t work anymore. The gaps between the social system we inhabit and the one we now need are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper over them.”

One glaring irony about the 2012 presidential election is that unions were able to provide a bulwark of support to President Obama in many battleground states, even as their numbers dwindled sharply. In Ohio, union households made up only 22 percent of the electorate, down 6 points since 2008. In Michigan, labor households made up just 28 percent of the electorate, a steep drop from 34 percent four years earlier. Even outside the Rust Belt in Nevada, the labor proportion of the vote dropped from 23 percent to 16 percent.

These upcoming gubernatorial races will be a test for how much influence labor can still muster. [Emphasis added]

Kraushaar goes on to describe a number of forthcoming gubernatorial races in which labor unions will make a concerted effort to defeat controversial conservatives, many of whom have tried to curb union influence over policymaking. Much will depend on the outcome of these races.


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