Friday, December 7, 2012

From Zero to 60---In His Grave

One of the greatest ironies these days is that if you're off to Lansing via car, chances are you just might have to travel on the Reuther Freeway, aka I-696, for a portion of that trip.

That would be the Reuther, as named after Michigan labor pioneer Walter P. Reuther. The same Reuther who is spinning in his grave right about now with great centrifugal force.

If only Ford Motor Company had acquiesced to organized labor back in the late-1930s as quickly as the Michigan Legislature ramrodded the first stage of the so-called "right to work" bill through session yesterday.

Reuther, eventual head of the UAW, paid for his union organizing efforts physically, at the famous Battle of the Overpass at the River Rouge plant, in 1937, when he and Richard Frankensteen were beaten severely by henchmen hired by Ford. The auto company was unhappy about Reuther and his fellow organizers handing out pro-union leaflets along the overpass.

So what would Reuther, and other labor organizers and champions of the early movement, think of the "right to work" bill, and its potential to take down labor unions?

This isn't exactly what Reuther had in mind when he worked tirelessly to ensure union representation for autoworkers some 75 years ago.

I wonder how many of today's young state lawmakers even know who Walter Reuther was. I wonder if they know why the Department of Transportation named I-696 after him?

I wonder if they know the sacrifices that Reuther and others made so that the middle class could be fortified and have peace of mind?

I wonder if they care.





For now, it's all about not only union busting, but Democrat busting. It's no secret that labor unions, while not as strong as they were 10-15 years ago, still form a good portion of the base of the Democratic party. And wouldn't the state GOP just love to hack away at that base, which they are now beginning to do by shoving the "right to work" bill onto Governor Rick Snyder's desk at warp speed.

Weaker labor unions---the bill would prohibit unions from requiring membership as a condition of employment---would be a boon to the Republicans.

But of course, the bill is being propped up as something that will ensure fairness and keep Michigan competitive in terms of salary and benefits, when statistics from other "right to work" states suggest mostly the opposite.

More likely is that the bill would become a slippery slope down which salaries, benefits and the middle class itself would all slide.

The manner in which the bill made its way through the Legislature, complete with protests and pepper spray, is, for now, worse than any of its residual effects. The Republicans' zeal for this bill is so blatantly partisan and filled with not-so-hidden agendas that it's either something to laugh or cry at. Nothing in between.

I know which one Walter Reuther would pick.

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