The ink on the reports of the election results has barely dried and conservatives have already rolled out the first big post-election victory–by enacting a so called “right to work” law in, of all places, Michigan. Previously, the labor unions that were defeated–in the 23 states with right to work laws, in addition to the defeats in Ohio and Wisconsin–included mainly select public sector employees. In Michigan, the labor unions of private sector employees, including the United Automobile Workers (UAW) and Teamsters, were also set back. And this is in the state in which the UAW was born, a state long known as one in which the labor movement is particularly strong. In Ohio and Wisconsin, the defeats came after huge and prolonged demonstrations. In Michigan, the labor unions were unable to mount a similarly prolonged protest.
Labor unions are a key component of the Democratic coalition. Their members, volunteers, and donations have played a significant role in many elections, including President Obama’s win Michigan this November. The President has not always reciprocated. Thus, he did not join the campaign to protect labor unions from similar laws in Wisconsin, even though he was campaigning in neighboring states. And he kept his distance from the recall campaign in Wisconsin, in which the labor unions tried–it turns out in vain–to punish the governor who launched and signed the legislation which severely curtailed collective bargaining rights.
Unless liberals find new ways to reach more voters and above all expand their coalition, the fact that there is a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic majority in the Senate will not carry the day for most liberal ideas.