WIESBADEN, Germany — Our friend Cheryl, a Michigan native who long ago married a German and started a successful business here, was aghast last night. “You’re a one-percenter,” I said, affecting the patois of the disaffected to make my point. “Whatever you have someone gave you, and you need to pay more.”
“That’s not true,” she protested. “I started with nothing.” Which, of course, means absolutely nothing to demagogues playing a political gambit. So there I was, sitting in an Austrian restaurant in this comparatively posh German town, explaining to old friends just how ugly American politics, circa 2012, are shaping up to be and how Michigan is unlikely escape being a battleground in more ways than one.
The latest piece of evidence comes in the state Democratic Party’s announcement of a “99 Percent Spring,” a thinly (if at all) veiled campaign to exploit the “Us vs. Them” instincts of Team Obama’s re-elect effort and channel the energy into blocking any effort to introduce “Right-to-Work” legislation in the Michigan Legislature. Their preferred option: placing on the November ballot — the same ballot that would re-elect President Barack Obama and potentially change control of Congress — an amendment to the state Constitution that would bar RTW legislation from becoming law and potentially roll back new strictures on public-sector benefits and even the emergency manager law.
At least Mark Brewer, chairman of the state Democratic Party, and his boss, United Auto Workers President Bob King, are thinking big. Success would mean huge turnout of Democratic-leaning, union-supporting voters who would a) deliver Michigan to Obama, Detroit Auto’s chief bailout officer, and b) block existential threats to the financial solvency of institutional unions and c) alter the balance of power in Washington. Whether the bold move left, a doubling-down on the old tactic of confrontation, would undercut Michigan’s slowly rebounding image as a credible place to do business would be an unintended consequence. But that’s what would happen. Guaranteed.
Preserving the union monoply, the institution’s dues flow and control of vital workplaces in the state economy — public-sector workforces, the auto industry, health care — evidently trump the (manufactured?) notion that Big Labor in Michigan, starting with the UAW, is pursuing a 21st-century path where labor is part of the solution, not the problem. Instead, the warning from labor that any credible GOP push for RTW would be “divisive” and detract from state-level economic and budget reforms evidently is not too divisive if the goal is delivering Michigan for the most pro-labor president in modern history and ensuring constitutional protection for a shrinking segment of the workforce.