Last Thursday, charged union protests met Michigan Freedom to Work’s new drive to enact a state right-to-work law. Here, unions again used the politics of fear to achieve their ends. But these tactics, while seemingly effective, distort reality and confuse level-headed thinking. Unions must stop their politicking and join right-to-work supporters in a civil dialogue about how best to promote worker’s interest.
Union supporters and right-to-work supporters do agree on the problem: Michigan workers find it increasingly hard to find good paying jobs. But each side disagrees on who is responsible for creating this economic mess. Union supporters believe big business outsourced jobs to other states and countries to benefit their bottom line. Right-to-work supporters counter that unions bargained for unwarranted higher wages and drove companies to move jobs to states and countries where wages were more competitive.
As a result, each side presents different solutions. Union supporters believe unions helped workers with their past problems and can help them again today. Right-to-work supporters believe the path forward lies not in antiquated union structures, but in empowering individual worker choice.
But the tone of each side’s rhetoric determines who holds the high ground in the debate. Michigan Freedom to Work spent Thursday peacefully engaging the public with their ideas. They presented their perception of the problem, its proper solution, and the impediments to change. However, union supporters responded with loud interruptions and cat calls, shouting things like “It’s not unions fault,” “You are just corporate puppets,” and “Right-to-work states are not worker friendly.” These overtones possess a decidedly emotional edge different from right-to-work supporters’ controlled tone; an edge undergirded by fear
Emotions like these cloud judgment and prevent many in the labor movement from honestly engaging with the facts and with others who are sympathetic to their cause. The facts do not lie: unions caused much of Michigan’s economic mess and it is unions who prevent movement towards a sustainable future. Right-to-work supporters do not seek to abolish unions or attack workers. They simply ask that workers be allowed the chance to choose who they think best represents their interests, knowing this to be the best way to benefit workers. In this regard, right-to-work can actually be an ally in bringing about the change workers desire. Any further attempts by union supporters to attack these positions with emotionally charged degradations will only continue to delegitimize their standing in the labor debate. Right-to-work supporters have entered the labor debate seeking to teach a new perspective and to learn from their opponents. They want to enter into a civil dialogue with workers, unions and the state about how best to improve Michigan’s economy. Union supporters must join right-to-work supporters at this table free from their fear politics and prejudices. This is the only way for Michigan workers to move forward.