Unfortunately a vile video is making the rounds on YouTube claiming that "unions and liberals killed Detroit". Story about it here. (Sorry for the Freep link.) It is hard to believe that the U.S. right-wing is still using the "$79/hour is all the UAW’s fault, and destroyed the auto industry" claim, although it has been debunked in many places, including by Jonathan Tasini.
I think there may be difficult times ahead for union organizing in Michigan. The right is stoking an anti-union mood nationally and in the state, and people may buy into it, given the dire economic circumstances in Michigan, which the right wants to tie to Granholm and Obama. Especially if another boring, play-it-safe Democrat runs, I would not be surprised if an anti-union Republican or Independent won the governorship next year, nor would I be surprised if they try to pass "right to work" legislation.
In my opinion, exciting social-movement unionism in Michigan could counter these trends. There are some cool things going on already– the relatively new Restaurant Opportunities Center in Michigan, and the ongoing Grand Rapids Starbucks IWW campaign.
Countering these trends will probably take a lot of pro-union marketing workas well. The left in the U.S. badly needs to win back the momentum from the right. Spreading the word about social movement unionism is one vital component of this.
It is also interesting that, to some extent, the "unions killed Detroit" idea is replacing the racist "black people killed Detroit" idea that one sometimes hears expressed here in Michigan. (I should clarify that this is usually a subtext; it is rarely stated outright, even in all-white crowds.) Against the racial-harmony-advancing hypothesis, however, there is the fact that the words "liberals" and "entitlement programs" (both used in the video) are often code words for black people, or black interests.
Recently I started re-reading Liberating Theory (Albert/Cagen/Chomsky/Hahnel/King/Sargent/Sklar) again, on the suggestion of a local comrade. I have 2 chapters to go still. I would be interested to see if anyone has tried to apply the contemporary holism framework to the U.S. currently (the book was written in 1986). So here is my attempt at the beginnings of a fragment of an analysis, with regard to the phenomenon I mentioned in the previous paragraph:
The U.S. right** is attempting to undermine class consciousness, destroy the basis for trade unionism, and lay the basis for further rounds of privatization. (Economic Sphere) One way they are doing this is by setting workers against each other– getting un-unionized workers to hate unionized workers, as in the debates over the auto bailout last fall. (Economic Sphere) Those debates had regionalist and racial overtones as well (Community Sphere). Intra-capitalist divisions and coordinator-capitalist divisions re-surfaced as well, as non-manufacturing capitalists and coordinator class ideologues argued for "creative destruction" in the automotive sector (Economic Sphere). The war against unions is part of the neoliberal offensive against social programs and in favor of mass incarceration that has been going on in the U.S. since the 1980s, with both Republican and Democratic support, and is usually justified by both authoritarian security rhetoric, and racist and sexist rhetoric against "welfare queens" and "entitlements" (Political Sphere, Community Sphere, Kinship Sphere). Thus, statements like "the unions killed Detroit" fit perfectly in this mileu. This is not to say that the CATO Institute worked up this slogan in a secret laboratory and then passenger-pigeoned it off to Ted Nugent– it probably evolved on its own given all these factors.
However, it is less socially acceptable to express outright racism than before, due to the work of anti-racist organizers and many other movements over many years (Community Sphere). Thus, the right cannot use statements like "black people killed Detroit" as freely as before (with the caveats expressed above about code words). The fact that Obama is president of the U.S. may also be a factor. (Political Sphere)
I know this is just a listing of phenomena and interpretations, identified by sphere, without pointers to relationships between spheres. But like I said, it’s a start.
** And lots of "moderate" Democrats as well, of course.