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The Press wages Class War with “Right to Work” stories

September 5, 2010

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that we don’t have a class war in this country. Every day those in the capitalist class are constantly devising ways to wage war on working people, all in the name of profit.

Unemployment numbers are high and under-employment is even high, with millions of people unable to make a living off the one or more jobs that they have while a small percentage of those at the top live in excess.

Today, the Grand Rapids Press has run several articles that they believe to be objectively discussing the pro’s and con’s of whether or not Michigan should adopt a Right to Work policy. The editorial staff might argue that as part of the Michigan 10.0 series the issue is relevant in the upcoming November Elections, but one can help but wonder about the timing of these articles on the eve of Labor Day.

The lead article on the front-page of today’s Press is based on a study commissioned by the Press, which is part of the Booth News chain of paper, which is owned by the media giant Advanced Publications.

This “Right to Work” study was conducted by GVSU economics professor Hari Singh, who teaches in the Seidman School of Business. The study is not particularly well done and the sources that Singh uses are those of sources that favor the anti-union/pro-business perspective, such as the Cato Institute and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Besides Singh, the only other business source cited in the rest of the main article is David Cole with the Center for Automotive Research, a pro-business entity based in Ann Arbor. The article does cite four different union representatives throughout the state and one local labor historian, which could give the impression that the article is balanced.

However, the problem with seeing the amount of labor sources vs business sources as balance and objective journalism is that the article itself is framed in such a way to favor the business perspective. The article, in fact, the whole series is framed in such a way as to suggest that if Michigan was a “Right to Work” state there would be more jobs and that would improve the economy.

The sad thing is that the union voices in this story don’t have a strong argument against Michigan not adopting a “Right to Work” policy, since their arguments only address wages and to some degree standard of living. If Michigan were to lower auto industry wages then the argument goes that they could hire more people, which is an appealing notion to many working class people, especially those that are unemployed.

The problem with this line of thinking and the way the Press is presenting this issue as a whole is twofold. First, the articles do not provide any real historical perspective, besides one line from local labor historian Michael Johnston.

Basic labor history would teach anyone that any rights that workers currently enjoy – workers compensation, benefits, wages, work safety standards, paid vacations, 8 hour work day and the right to organize is because unions fought hard for decades to win those basic rights, quite often at a high price. The Press stories provide no insight into the long fought battles that working people waged in order to have these basics rights, because the capitalist class never gave them as a gift.

These basic rights were won by working people, but those who fought for them were not primarily focused on wages, rather they fought for the dignity of working people and against a capitalist system. And this is the second point about what is flawed about the way the Press series is presented and how much of the economic discussion is framed today in the news media.

Most of the people who fought for the 8-hour work day or worker rights were members of unions like the CIO, the Knights of Labor and the IWW, all more radical union groups which were a real threat to the capitalist class. They were such a threat that they were targeted by the business class with blacklisting, firings, beatings, arrests, deportations and sometimes out right murder. (See Jeremy Brecher’s book Strike! and Sidney Lens’s The Labor Wars: From the Molly Maguires to the Sit-Downs)

Once the most radical elements of the labor movement were too small in number to seriously threaten the capitalist class, the more mainstream unions like the AFL agreed to embrace the capitalist system as long as they could negotiate over wages and benefits. (See Irvin Bernstein’s two volumes The Lean Years A History of the American Worker, 1920-1933 and The Turbulent Years A History of the American Worker, 1933–1941)

This is not to say that all unions since WWII don’t serve the interest of working people, but most of them have given up much of their power by making peace with the capitalist class. However, the capitalist class has never been content with the concessions made to unions, thus there has been an ongoing effort to weaken unions beginning with the passage of the Taft Hartley Act in 1947 and continuing with trade policies such as NAFTA and the current globalization of neoliberal economics.

These are the reasons for the decline of organized labor numbers in the US, a number that represents only 12% of working people in the US. Had the Press even attempted to include the more complex aspects of organized labor of capitalism then the article about “Right to Work” would have been more honest.

The Press could have even spoke to labor organizations who fight for more than just wages and job security such as Warehouse Workers for Justice, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, Justice for Janitors, the IWW and Labor Notes, which is based in Detroit. The IWW also has a chapter based in Grand Rapids.

The Press will be running more stories on this the theme of “Right to Work” and we plan to provide some analysis as they do.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Y.B. Ordinary permalink
    September 6, 2010 5:47 am

    Thanks, Jeff, for this article. I, too, was appalled by the way the Press presented this as a discussion, when it really was an extended opinion piece pushing the pro-business side of the story.

    Perhaps I just haven’t heard it, but I didn’t think there was any real discussion going on about making Michigan a right-to-work state. I am aware that the usual big-business types are trying yet again to get the issue on the ballot this year, but that is not discussion about “Should we?” They don’t care about anyone else’s opinion.

    So on Labor Day Sunday, there was not a front-page story praising working people in the GR Press. I looked: the only mention of anything like that was on page I1- Ruth Butler’s column had two sentences suggesting that Labor Day should be about working people, but then went on to list all the other things more important to think about.
    Thanks for nothing, GR Press. Mr. Keep, your claim to even-handedness rings hollower all the time.

  2. Kate Wheeler permalink
    September 6, 2010 6:25 pm

    This Press series is particularly disgusting; it makes me wonder if it’s being paid for under the counter by some local capitalists, because it is so blatantly slanted.

    A lead-up article to the 10.0 article was posted September 5 by Julia Bauer with the headline “Poll shows a majority of voters support making Michigan a right-to-work state.” When I read that headline, I thought, “That can’t be right.” You have to read well into the article to discover: 1) that the Press itself commissioned the poll; 2) that the “majority” is one percent–or, 51 percent supported a statement stating that Michigan should pass a right-to-work amendment; and 3) that the poll actually has a 5.5 percent margin of error!
    People just skimming the headline and the first couple graphs of the article would not even see those facts.

    And today (surprise, surprise) the Press published an article stating that some states have set up right-to-work *zones* in their states–zones that can be as large as an entire county, and that “The idea gained some steam when West Michigan business leaders made right-to-work their second-highest priority at the conclusion of the 2008 Regional Policy Conference in Grand Rapids.”

    A lobbyist for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, butter not melting in his mouth, stated, “Our goal isn’t to eliminate unions. Our goal is to create a competitive environment.”

    Quotes about the idea are, of course, overwhelmingly positive.

    That Editor Keep would choose to run this garbage on Labor Day is really the frosting on the poisoned cake.


  1. The Press wages Class War with “Right to Work” stories (via Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy) « The Wobbly Goblin
  2. The Press wages Class War with “Right to Work” stories – Part II « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  3. An Informed Vote My Ass « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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