Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Ringwraiths in Michigan

The Republicans in the Michigan House just turned the state into a "Right To Work" state.  Thousands are protesting outside the House. 

Before today's move in those class wars, on the side of the capital-owners, the Michigan Republicans were busy giving health care providers the right to refuse all care (except for emergency care) on various ethical grounds.  They also sneaked an extra provision to Blue Cross bill to make insurance for elective abortions (defined as all but those required to save the woman's life) only available through an optional rider.  Currently 80% of private health insurance plans in Michigan cover abortion costs.  That would pretty much now become 0%.

But all that pales in audacity (perhaps because we are used to the way women's issues are treated) when compared to the Michigan "Right To Work" moves, and this is why I bring back the idea that the recent crop of Republican governors in various states (including Ohio and Wisconsin) are nazgüls or Ringwraiths, from the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkien.  These guys:

What about those moves?  Governor Rick Snyder never campaigned on this issue.  It appears to have suddenly materialized, as if by magic, and, presto!, who it is who has the right to work (or the right to pursue grievances about it) dramatically changed:

But as Snyder prepares to sign historic legislation making Michigan the nation's 24th right-to-work state, he'll inevitably be lumped by his detractors with those firebrand Republicans, a distinction that the governor had long sought to avoid.
“I didn’t do this to get into the politics of it,” Snyder said on MSNBC Tuesday afternoon of the fight. He said the issue reached a “critical mass” after organized labor unsuccessfully pushed a ballot initiative this November that would have established a right to collective bargaining in the Michigan constitution.
Snyder had previously said that pursuing this legislation was not on his agenda. But Republicans in the statehouse, whose majorities in the House and Senate will be narrower next year due to the 2012 elections, revived the long-dormant proposal with Snyder's eventual blessing.
"Once we had the support that we had, the next step was convincing the governor that this was a good thing," said state Republican Rep. Marty Knollenberg, a primary sponsor of the bill in the House. "It certainly started from the legislature, and then it was presented to the governor … I think he was sort of taking a wait-and-see attitude. It wasn’t on his priority list, as he indicated."

Another reason for using the nazgül label for these Republicans is that they truly have been almost magically good at the way they offer voters (of whom most belong to the labor class, after all) the opportunity to torpedo their own incomes and how many of those voters accept all that as a great idea!   The magic trick to is first attack unions in the public sector!

That way voters regard themselves largely as the ones paying the wage bill, not as the workers who are going to earn less in a Right To Work state.   Because that's what statistics tell us:  Right To Work laws are good for firms,  not so good for workers.

All this is part of the Republican goal to Kill All The Unions, and the reason for that is obvious:  Large firms facing tiny single individual workers in pay negotiations, one at a time, are going to make a better deal for the firm than large firms facing a unified front of workers in such negotiations.

That is the theoretical basis for why the Right To Work laws will ultimately hurt all the working stiffs, even those who now rejoice over the idea that they don't have to pay any union fees to work in a unionized firm.

That's the freedom of association argument about the Right To Work, that nobody should be forced to join a union in order to get a job.*  But here's the snag in that argument, and the reason why such laws would most likely mean the death of unions:

Opponents argue that right-to-work laws restrict freedom of association, and limit on the sorts of agreements individuals acting collectively can make with their employer, by prohibiting workers and employers from agreeing to contracts that include "fair share fees". This creates a free rider problem[13][14] since unless non-union employees pay fair share fees, they are benefiting from collective bargaining without paying union dues. Thus, the services provided to them by the union contract are being subsidized by paying union members.
It's that "free rider" bit that really matters.  Just think about it.  You are getting a job in a unionized firm where the pay and the benefits are good because of the union activity.  But now the state has introduced Right To Work legislation, and you can get that job and all its goodies without paying one cent in union fees!

The selfishly logical thing is not to pay those fees.  But because that is the selfishly logical thing, most other workers think the same way, the union revenues decline and over time its ability to get better pay and benefits disappears.  Poof!

A comparable example:  Suppose we make taxes wholly voluntary.  Do you think the same public services would then be forthcoming?

*I was astonished at some of the comments attached to various news stories about Michigan's Right To Work change.  Almost nobody seemed to understand the free rider problem, not even the supporters of unions.