'It's Not Just Anti-Union. It's Anti-Worker.' NFLPA and MLBPA Join Fight Against Michigan Right-to-Work

by Dave Zirin

Michigan, the cradle of the union movement in the United States, is poised to join the ranks of so-called "right-to-work" states. The Koch Brothers' meat puppet Governor Rick Snyder (http://www.thenation.com/blog/171641/gop-koch-brothers-sneak-attack-guts...) says that this attack on the political power of unions would be a victory for "freedom." Unless he's talking about the freedom to gut the wages of Michigan's workers, he's not telling the truth. The bill Snyder poised to sign this week is about restricting the freedom of working people to organize. It even blocks the "freedom" to challenge the bill in a referendum. This is an outrage and the unions are fighting back. Amongst their ranks are the Major League Baseball Player's Association and the National Football League Player's Association. This might shock some people. Sports unions are often criticized, incorrectly, for not caring about issues off the field. It's a piece of "conventional wisdom" that stretches back to the first chief of the AFL-CIO George Meany who said, "I have no use for ball players as union men. You'd never see the day when one of those high priced bozos would honor a picket line."

I spoke with DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA about his thoughts on the right-to-work issue in January when Indiana became the first rust-belt state to pass their own version of the bill. He said, “When you look at proposed legislation [called] 'right-to-work' let’s just put the hammer on the nail. It’s untrue. If [you want] 'right-to-work' have a constitutional amendment that guarantees every citizen a job, that’s a 'right-to-work.' What this is instead is a right to ensure that ordinary working citizens can’t get together as a team, can’t organize, can’t stand together and can’t fight management on an even playing field. From a sports union, our union, our men and their families understand the power of management and understand how much power management can wield over an individual person. So don’t call it a 'right-to-work.' If you want to have an intelligent discussion about what the bill is, call it what it is. Call it an anti-organizing bill. Fine. If that’s what the people want to do in order to put a bill out there, let’s cast a vote on whether or not ordinary workers can get together and represent themselves, and let’s have a real referendum."

I also asked, DeMaurice Smith how he responded to people who say that this is just unions standing up for other unions with no care for workers. His answer stands as a terrifically important response to those standing with Snyder and the Koch brothers on this issue.

Smith answered, "I used to say that we have forgotten a lot of the lessons from organized labor over the last 100 years, but I’m now convinced that we never learned them. Whether your talking about fire escapes outside of buildings or sprinkler systems inside of buildings, fair wages for a days work, laws that prevent child labor, things that led to the abolishing of sweatshops in America, let alone management contributing to healthcare plans or a decent pension… all those things over the last 100 years were not gifts from management. Someone in a corporate suite didn’t decide one day that they would bestow that wonderful right upon a working person. The way those rights were achieved was through the collective will of a group of workers who stood together and said, ‘This is what we believe is fair, and we are all going to stand together and demand that those things be provided to us. We’ll do it as a collective group. You may be able to pick off one of us or two of us or five of us, but you will not be able to pick off all of us.’ When you look at legislation that is designed to tear apart that ability to work as a team… that is not just anti-union. That is anti–working man and woman, and that’s why we weighed in."

The fight is certainly not over in Michigan. Those opposing right-to-work legislation however are going to need to expand the planned protests and civil disobedience in the coming week. It's safe to say that it would make a substantial difference to this struggle if members of the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions take a cue from their own union executive boards and make their way down to the capital.

Copyright © 2012 The Nation

Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and the newly published A People's History of Sports in the United States (The New Press). and his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated.com, New York Newsday and The Progressive. He is the host of XM Radio's Edge of Sports Radio. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com

What's the problem?

How is giving people a choice as to whether or not they want to join a union "anti-union"? If unions truly serve the best interests of their members they won't lose anybody.

Uh, That's Not Was This Is About

You're obviously not familiar with the facts. This has nothing to do with making a choice about joining the union.

Let's say that government went and created a peculiar set of exceptions to normal contract law and and imposed them on a certain group of businesses. You'd hear howls from here to Valley Forge from aggrieved right-wingers complaining about government not minding its own business by interfering with contract law.

What "right to work" is about is forcing a voluntary association to alter its contract and give something for nothing to members who benefit from the union, if they choose to personally not pay for those benefits.

Maybe a better name for these laws are "something for nothing" laws?

But only for the organizations of working people. Because we would never, ever expect our government to force a business to give anyone something for nothing. That's just not fair!

Are We Approaching the Twilight of the Labor Movement?

by David Macaray

By now, most people realize that private sector union membership in the U.S. stands at about 7-percent, which means that 93-percent of all private sector jobs are non-union. Which makes those accusations of unions of being “too big” and “too powerful” even more ridiculous and hysterical than they were when private sector membership was only a meager 10-percent.

Yet, even with these depressingly low membership numbers, if America’s non-union workers rooted for unions to succeed, and, indeed, aspired to join a union themselves, it would mean, at least in theory, that the labor movement was alive and well and had a decent chance of succeeding.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Alas, too many non-union workers not only don’t admire or respect labor unions, they hate them. They fear them. They resent them. It’s as if America’s corporate masters had gathered all the underpaid, under-benefited non-union workers together in the same room, and done some hideous Manchurian Candidate brain-washing number on them, convincing them that they could trust the profit-motive more than they could trust a workers collective.

As a college student, I worked part-time as a breakfast cook. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, back in those days, it was the dream of every cook to get a job in a union manufacturing plant. That was their life’s goal. These guys didn’t dream of being millionaires or lottery winners or entrepreneurs; they dreamed of working in an industrial setting where the wages, benefits, and working conditions were union-scale.

Which is why it’s so disappointing to see the antipathy directed toward unions today. One objection is that unions are “corrupt.” That assertion has always puzzled me. Are people confusing ineptitude, laziness, and lack of imagination with “corruption,” because I’ve never seen any evidence of widespread corruption, certainly not enough to damage labor’s reputation. Are these people locked into some sort of time-warp, where they still imagine seeing newsreel footage of union honchos doing the perp-walk? Those days are over.

Another objection is that workers shouldn’t be forced to join a union or forced to pay dues. That one not only puzzles me, it irritates me. You hire into a union shop because the wages and benefits are roughly 15-percent better than non-union facilities, and yet you balk at having to embrace the very organization that made those wages and benefits possible? Several words come to mind: hypocrite, freeloader, ingrate.

In an odd way, the resentment at being “forced” to join a union (despite its obvious advantages) reminds me of the South’s resistance to desegregation. Southerners wouldn’t accept the fact that the federal government could tell a restaurant owner in Alabama that he no longer had the right to choose whom he could and couldn’t serve. Even though the restaurant was private property, his “Whites Only” signs had to come down. It was a concept people couldn’t absorb. Perhaps that same mind-set applies to union membership.

This classic labor vs. management adversarial relationship has been in place in the U.S. ever since the mid-19th century, and has existed in Europe for even longer. Because everything and everyone—the Congress, the media, the police, the banks, the Church, the city fathers—were arrayed against the unions, it was a constant struggle, and any progress labor made came at a steep price.

But the one enduring resource unions could always count on—the one built-in advantage they had—was the support of working men and women. And that was because workers felt they were all pretty much in the same boat. Moreover, it was this grassroots, across-the-board solidarity that management most feared because they had no way of combating it, other than by giving workers a larger slice of the pie.

And this is what makes the current anti-unionism so disturbing. Despite statistics clearly showing that the middle-class is losing more ground every year, the average worker, for whatever reason, continues to place more faith in the generosity and infallibility of the so-called “free market” than he does in the only lobbying organization working people have ever had. It’s like one of those old cowboy movies, but one where the Indians trust the cavalry more than their own tribe.

If the support of decent, hard-working men and women continues to evaporate, it means we’re sunk. Simple as that. It means Corporationism has not only won the battle, but the war. And who knows? Maybe this thing is already over. Maybe organized labor is walking around zombie-like, unaware that it’s America’s Undead.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

1000s Expected to Protest Anti-Worker Legislation in Michigan

by Allison Kilkenny

Large numbers of Michigan State Police officers have surrounded the Capitol this morning in anticipation of a day of protests in response to so-called right-to-work legislation currently being processed through the state Legislature.

No doubt, the anticipatory police presence is related to the huge backlash to similar anti-worker legislation signed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that led to union activists occupying the Capitol building in February and March of 2011.

If passed, Michigan will be the twenty-fourth state with laws to prohibit requiring union dues as a condition of employment.

Ironworkers from the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin will travel to Lansing this week, and over the weekend, hundreds of working people gathered into UAW Local 600 in Dearborn to learn about peaceful civil disobedience, a tactic they plan to use in the fight against the anti-worker legislation.

The union hall reportedly couldn’t hold all the nurses, autoworkers, Teamsters, teachers, members of SEIU, AFSCME, UFCW, ISO and other unions who attended the meeting.

ABC News:

“Humanize the situation. Be clear with your intentions. Introduce yourself,” national labor activist Lisa Fithian, of Austin, Texas, said through a megaphone. “They’re going to do everything they can to criminalize us.”

“We are not the violent ones,” Fithian told the crowd. “What is it that the police are going to do? What is it that the governor is going to order?… We have to remember: The police are not our enemy in this fight. They’re doing a job. It’s our job to convince them that they should put their guns down and join the people.”

Additionally, the NFL Players Association put out a statement opposing the bill:

“We stood up against this in the past, and we stand against it in its current form in Michigan,” George Atallah, the association’s assistant executive director for external affairs, told ThinkProgress in a phone interview. “Our leadership and players are always proud to stand with workers in Michigan and everywhere else. We don’t think voters chose this, and we don’t think workers deserve this.”

On Tuesday, thousands of union activists are expected to converge at the Capitol, and congressional Democrats are meeting with Governor Rick Snyder this morning to discuss the anti-worker legislation.

The Michigan Nurses Association plans to demonstrate on the Capitol steps this morning, and protesters will wear duct tape over their mouths.

Detroit Free Press:

“This politically motivated legislation will only give corporations and CEOs more power to silence workers, including nurses,” spokeswoman Dawn Kettinger said in a news release.

Eight people have already been arrested at the Capitol Thursday after demonstrators reportedly attempted to rush on the Senate floor and state police first pepper-sprayed the protesters and then sealed the doors to the Capitol for several hours afterwards.

The legislation has been challenged in court by a union activist who claims the state Open Meetings Act was violated when police barred the doors to the Capitol on Thursday, ABC News reports. Ari Adler, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger, told the Detroit Free Press the lawsuit was “baseless and frivolous” and “more about receiving attention than getting justice.”

Michigan State Police sent out a reminder notice Sunday about rules of use at the Capitol:

The department said that on weekdays when the Legislature isn’t in session—such as Monday—public visiting hours inside the Capitol are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. When the Legislature is in session—such as Tuesday—the building would remain open longer if lawmakers remain in session. The building would be open to the public until 30 minutes after the last chamber of the Legislature or committee hearing adjourns.

The grounds outside the Capitol are listed as open for events and exhibits from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.—or longer, if the Legislature remains in session outside those times.

For more on Michigan’s anti-labor legislation, check out John Nichols’s coverage here.

© 2012 The Nation

Allison Kilkenny is the co-host of the progressive political podcast Citizen Radio (http://wearecitizenradio.com/) and independent journalist who blogs at http://allisonkilkenny.com/. Her work has appeared in The American Prospect, the L.A. Times, In These Times, Common Dreams, Truthout and the award-winning grassroots NYC newspaper The Indypendent.

Right to Work Laws Violate Human Rights and Labor Law

December 10, 2012
5:12 PM

CONTACT: International Commission for Labor Rights

Right to Work Laws Violate Human Rights and Labor Law
Statement of the International Commission for Labor Rights

WASHINGTON - December 10 - The effort in Michigan to pass “right-to-work” legislation has come to the attention of the International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR).1

December 10 is Human Rights Day around the world. On December 10, 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified. It would be a cruel irony if the Michigan government on (or about) Human Rights day were to pass legislation which abrogates the basic human rights of Michigan workers.

The right of workers to form and join trade unions to protect their interests is a universal human right recognized in both human rights and labor law and is binding on all states. Right-to-work laws prevent unions from fulfilling their duty to protect the interests of the workers. Laws aimed at weakening trade unions so as to prevent them from protecting workers interests, in ICLR’s opinion, must be considered illegal. Therefore, final passage of this legislation and/or Governor Snyder signing it abrogates basic human rights and labor law.

Consider the following:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires all governments to work towards achieving the rights stated in the Declaration.

Article 23 of the Universal Declaration states:

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself (and herself) and his (or her) family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his (or her) interests.

The right of everyone to form and join trade unions is for the purpose of protection their interests.2 The “protection of interests” language in the declaration has substantive meaning. Trade unions must be treated under law in a manner which enables people who join together in trade unions to be actually able to protect their interests, so as to achieve such rights as favorable remuneration and conditions of work and ensure an existence worthy of human dignity.

The Universal Declaration was the basis for two Human Rights treaties which provide more specifics to rights contained in the Declaration. These treaties are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In 1992 the United States ratified the ICCPR. The United States has signed but not ratified the ICESCR.3

The ICCPR at Article 22 reiterates that everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his (or her) interests. The only restrictions on the right are those which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Under the ICCPR, any restrictions on trade unions must be necessary to a democratic society etc. Necessity is a high bar. Trade Unions are one of the major building blocks of a democratic society. As such there can be no necessity for this legislation which is aimed at weakening the ability people to protect their interests by voting for a union.

The ICESCR has similar language. Article 8 (a) ensures “the right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, for the promotion and protection of his economic and social interests. The ICESCR also has that high bar for restrictions on organization of trade unions.

As human rights norms have developed, so have labor rights norms which protect the rights of unions, freedom of association and collective bargaining. In 1948 and 1949 the International Labor Organization (ILO) which was founded in 1919, issued Conventions 87 and 98 respectively. These conventions protect the right to organize and to collectively bargaining. The ICCPR and ICESCR at Article 22 (3) and Article 8 (3) integrate the provisions of ILO Convention 87, into these human rights treaties. This subsection states that no State which has ratified Convention 87 may pass legislative measures which would prejudice, or to apply the law in such a manner as to prejudice, the guarantees provided for in that Convention. Although the United States has not ratified either Conventions 87 or 98, given their universality, they should be considered binding as customary international law. In fact, in 1998 the ILO issued the Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW) which gave special status to “core labor” standard which members of the ILO were bound to observe and report progress on to the ILO regardless of ratification. Conventions 87 and 98- the rights to organize and collective bargaining-are part of the core labor standards with this special status. United States membership in the ILO requires compliance with these conventions.

Therefore, reading the ILO Convention 87 together with subsection 3 of Article 22 of the ICCPR and sub section 3 of the ICESCR, no state may be allowed to pass a law which prejudices the guarantees provided for in Convention 87. Right-to-work laws prejudice workers’ rights under Convention 87 and the above described human rights instruments.

Because they are designed to eviscerate the trade unions though which workers have a right “to protect their interests”, right-to-work laws prevent workers from exercising their fundamental human and labor rights. Therefore, in ICLR’s opinion, these laws are illegal. ICLR calls upon the Michigan Legislature and Governor to comply with human and labor rights of the workers in this State and reject the right-to-work law.

Issued: December 10, 2012

1 ICLR is network of over 300 labor lawyers, labor experts and jurists around the world who consider the rights of workers to be a fundamental element in promoting democracy and economic fairness.

2 ICLR is aware that the Taft-Hartley amendment to the National Labor Relations Act which allowed for “right to work” laws was found constitutional, in 1949 in Lincoln Federal Labor Union No 19129 et al v State of North Carolina, 335 U.S. 525 (1949). However, since then no court has addressed this section of the law in light of subsequent development of human rights and labor law as well as US treaty obligations.

3 Even though the United States has not ratified the ICESCR there are two reasons why the United States is bound by its provisions. (1) under the doctrine of pacta sunt servanda a country which has signed a treaty is bound by its provisions until such time as it is repudiated (see Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties ) and (2) At present 160 countries have ratified this Covenant such that the provisions are customary international law and binding regardless of ratification. Customary international law is that law which is so widely accepted that the law is binding on all countries. See Sarei v Rio Tinto 456 F.3d 1069 (9th Cir 2006) Where the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which was ratified by at least 149 countries was considered customary international law.


Right to Work: As Goes Michigan, So Goes The Nation

by Ruth Conniff

As the world watches massive labor protests at the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, today, Wisconsinites are seeing a repeat of the struggle in Madison two years ago.

Only this time the stakes are even higher.

Republicans, the Chamber of Commerce, and a coalition of now-familiar rightwing millionaires (the Koch brothers as well as Michigan Amway heir Dick DeVos) have banded together to pass right-to-work legislation in Michigan, the birthplace of the United Autoworkers.

What does it mean if Michigan, cradle of the industrial labor movement in America, becomes a right-to-work state?

"That's the thing, isn't it?" says Jane Slaughter, the editor of Labor Notes, the Detroit-based publication that has been the voice of union activists for the last 33 years.

If Michigan passes right to work legislation, as governor Rick Snyder and the Republicans who control the state legislature have promised, "can Wisconsin be far behind?" asks Slaughter.

What about Pennsylvania, where anti-union Governor Tom Corbett has said right-to-work legislation would be too controversial to pass.

"That's exactly what our governor said," Slaughter points out.

"Are we going to be a right-to-work nation, except for New York or California?" Slaughter asks.

The scene in the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, is terribly familiar to those of us who witnessed the massive rallies in Wisconsin in 2011.

Chanting protesters are packing the rotunda, only to be pushed out by police.

A blog post on the Labor Notes web site (http://labornotes.org/2012/12/right-work-looms-michigan) by Alix Gould-Werth, a member of graduate employees' Local 3550 at the University of Michigan, tries to explain how Michigan came to this.

Governor Snyder, Gould-Werth suggests, learned from Wisconsin's governor Scott Walker's mistakes. Rather than make his bold attack on unions all at once, "the Michigan legislators did it piecemeal: taking away teachers’ automatic dues deductions, defining university research assistants as non-workers, and other measures that wouldn’t rile everyone at once."

In an effort that paralleled the recall effort in Wisconsin, Michigan labor activists worked hard this year on a grassroots campaign, gathering signatures for Prop 2, a ballot initiative that would have enshrined labor rights in the state constitution, protecting against the right-to-work measure.

Big money came into the state to run ads opposing the measure. And voters seemed to underestimate the real threat to labor, Gould-Werth suggests.

Prop 2 lost, 57-to-42, and one month later, Rick Snyder, who had said right-to-work was "too divisive" for Michigan, promised to sign the bill.

President Obama came to Michigan and made a strong statement against right-to-work, calling it "the right to work for less money."

But the progressive tone, nationally, on labor, contrasts sharply with what is happening on the ground.

Not only did Obama win by focusing on the auto industry rescue to beat Mitt "let Detroit go bankrupt" Romney, but progressive victories across the country delivered a stinging rebuke to the right.

But the battle at the state level goes on.

It is serious regrouping time for labor.

A comment at the bottom of Alix Gould-Werth's piece on the Labor Notes web site puts it in stark terms;

"Unions did this to themselves," writes commenter NancyEJ.

Among her complaints about labor in Michigan:

"No accountability to the membership. Bullshit third-world election standards. Union busting their own staff . . . Holding themselves to a different abysmal employee relations standard than they do employers. . . . Disenfranchising everyone but the toadies, advancing staff based on their ability to bootlick alone . . . "

This outraged rank-and-filer continues:

"You all tolerated this leadership and did their bidding, you turned a blind eye when they wiped their fannies with the NLRA and slept like babies every night after you saw them treat the rank and file like dues cows, annoyances, parade props and tee shirt hangers. "


"You can't just keep walking around in circles, chanting empty folk song lyrics, and shaking your little fist at stuff and expect the membership and the rest of the intelligent life on the planet to just buy in to your 1960s 'vision.’ And the rest of you can't just keep whining about all unions supposedly accomplished a HALF A CENTURY ago either. 'The dinosaurs who brought you the weekend.' Cripes. It's pathetic."

Is it the unions' fault?

I asked Slaughter (whose organization has been a voice for democracy and activism, not an apologist for union leadership).

In part, she says:

Labor's faults include "continually taking concessions," and "making it clear they'd let employers walk all over them in the workplace."

"You could say that the UAW is the leading union in Michigan and is the union that led the way nationally in concessions of all kinds over the last 30 years," Slaughter adds, from labor-management participation schemes to monetary concessions to two-tier pay so that new employees make half the pay of longer term employees.

"The UAW being a pioneer in concessions certainly didn't help."

If the impending right-to-work law in Michigan shows anything, it's that what Slaughter calls the "mythology that the UAW is this 800-pound gorilla and runs politics in Michigan" is total rubbish.

It might be time for those outraged rank-and-filers to take over.

© 2012 The Progressive

Ruth Conniff covers national politics for The Progressive and is a voice of The Progressive on many TV and radio programs. Conniff was a regular on CNN’s Sunday Capital Gang and is now a regular on PBS’s To the Contrary. She also has appeared frequently on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal and on NPR and Pacifica.

MI New 'Corporate Servitude Law': It Takes Away Worker Rights

by George Lakoff

Michigan has just passed a corporate servitude law. It is designed to take away many of the worker rights that unions have conferred throughout their history: The right to a living wage. The right to equal pay for women. The right to deferred payments in the form of pensions. The right to negotiate workplace standards and working conditions. The right to overtime pay.

The law is intended to destroy unions, or at least make then ineffective. It says simply that workers do not have to pay union dues to take a job—even if they get benefits previously negotiated by a union. Most workers who don't have to pay dues won't pay, and that will defund the unions, killing them and taking away rights unions have fought hard for over generations. Without workers negotiating as a unified group, corporations will not have to grant those union-created rights. Corporations will have take-it-or-leave-it power over individual workers. In short, this is corporate servitude: you do what you are told and take what you are offered.

The deeper truth about unions is that they don't just create and maintain rights for workers; they work for and create crucial rights in society as a whole. Unions created weekends, the eight-hour workday, and health benefits. And through their politics, they have been at the center of support for civil rights and other social justice issues. In short, unions don't just work for their members. They work for all of us. Including businesses: workers are profit creators.

Since Democratic candidates tend to support the same progressive views, defunding unions would take away their power to campaign for Democratic candidates. The new Michigan law is thus also a partisan law supporting the Republican party.

Language matters. Republicans understand this better than Democrats. Republicans have called their corporate servitude law a “right to work” law, as if the law conferred a right instead of taking many away. The first principle of political and social communication in cases of conflict is: Avoid the other side’s language. The Democrats keep violating this principle, using the Republicans’ name for this law. In this way they are helping Republicans, because using the Republican language activates Republican framing, not just for this law, but for conservative ideology at the deepest level.

Progressives and conservatives have opposing views of democracy. For progressives, democracy is based on citizens caring about each other and acting responsibly on that care, with both individual and social responsibility, to provide through the government protection and empowerment for all. Government thus becomes a means by which citizens pay for public provisions to benefit all: public infrastructure (roads, bridges, hospitals, public buildings), public education, public health and safety (clean air, clean water, safe food, disease protection), a patent office to protection innovations, a justice system, and networks for energy, communication, and transportation. Without all these public provisions, we are not free: business cannot thrive (if it can operate at all) and we cannot live decent, civilized private lives. It is a deep truth about our democracy: our freedom depends on such public provisions and the private depends on the public. Unions both defend these freedoms and add to them the worker rights unions have created.

Conservatives don't accept this truth, if they perceive it at all. They tend to see democracy as providing “liberty”—the liberty to pursue one’s own interests and well-being through personal responsibility, without being responsible for the interests or well-being of others and without others being responsible for them.

From this conservative perspective, businessmen should have the liberty to run their businesses as they please to maximize their profit, and workers should rely on only their personal responsibility to get and keep a job. Unions, for conservatives, thus violate (1) the liberty of business owners to offer workers what is most profitable for the business, (2) the personal responsibility of workers, and (3) the liberty conservatives think workers should have to work without paying union dues.

From the progressive perspective, the new Michigan law is a corporate servitude law, while from the conservative perspective, the law is a “right to work” law.

Language works so that the conservative name “right to work” evokes the conservative political ideology in the brains of those who hear it without wincing. The more an idea is activated in the brain the stronger it gets. Thus, the use of the conservative name strengthens the conservative ideology in the brains of the public.

The press is not being neutral in using the Republican name for the law. Journalists too, in just using the name, are supporting both the Republican framing of the law and conservative ideology. The press is not being balanced — which is what journalists typically claim to be. Balance would be to use both the names “corporate servitude law” and “right to work law” and to explain the differences in the progressive and conservative understanding of what the law is and does.

Of course, to do so would change a false view of language that journalists too often internalize, namely, that language is neutral. To see that it isn’t, just try speaking or writing of “Michigan’s corporate servitude law” and listen to conservatives scream bloody murder over a truth that does fit their view of democracy. And listen to them keep screaming because it is important to keep repeating the true name of the law if the public is to understand what the law really does.


George Lakoff is the author of The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic (co-authored with Elizabeth Wehling). His previous books include Moral Politics, Don't Think of an Elephant!, Whose Freedom? and Thinking Points (with the Rockridge Institute staff). He is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, and a founding senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute.

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