INDIANA REPUBLICANS are planning a final vote in the state legislature on a so-called "right-to-work" bill, and Gov. Mitch Daniels says he will sign the legislation into law as soon as it gets to his desk–in spite of large protests by unionists and their supporters.
With thousands of angry workers gathered daily outside the State House last week, the Senate passed its version of right-to-work legislation by a margin of 28-22, and the House passed an identical version by 54-44. The legislation required the approval of a Senate committee on Monday, and a final vote of the full Senate is planned for Wednesday, February 1.
As outrage about the legislation grew–and with the Super Bowl about to be played in Indianapolis on February 5–Republicans had to rush the bill to the desk of the Republican governor with unprecedented speed, preventing further testimony and curbing amendments. Daniels promised in 2004 and 2006 that he wouldn't support a right-to-work law, but he has committed to signing the bill.
House Democrats boycotted the State House for eight days during the last three weeks to prevent Republicans from having a quorum to pass the legislation, but the Democrats disappointed union members by returning for the vote last week, though they knew this would put the bill on track to become law.
An AFL-CIO representative said Democrats were pressed not to return, but House members claimed the financial hits for staying away–Republicans voted to fine Democrats $1,000 a day for boycotting sessions of the legislature, though those fines were delayed by a judge–were too much of a burden.
The truth, however, is that the misnamed "right-to-work" legislation–better known to its opponents as the "right-to-work-for-less"–will have a devastating financial hit on working-class Hoosiers if it becomes law. According to the Indianapolis Star:
Pete Rimsans, executive director of the building trades union in Indiana, said that in 2001, when Oklahoma became the last state to adopt a "right to work" law, construction wages there and in Indiana were only 50 cents apart. Today, Rimsans said, the hourly construction wages in Oklahoma are $8.50 plus about $1.31 in benefits, while in Indiana, they are $21.92 an hour, with $10.65 worth of benefits.
If the legislation becomes law, Indiana will become the 23rd right-to-work state and the first in the industrial Midwest. This setback for labor will embolden employer attacks and right-wing legislative efforts, like the attack on public-sector workers in Gov. Scott Walker's Wisconsin. Ohio Gov. John Kasich pushed the same legislation last year, but it was defeated in a ballot measure in November.
Supporters of right-to-work-for-less say they will push similar legislation in nine more states in the coming year, including Wisconsin and Michigan.
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A "RALLY for the 99 percent" against the right-to-work bill, initiated by Occupy movements around the state, was held over the weekend and brought together as many as 200 Occupy and labor activists. Occupy Anderson activist Heath Hensley, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, explained the stakes in this struggle:
The 1 percent are trying to hand out edicts from this House–this is our House! Our interests are not being represented properly. A lot of Democrats understand what this is about, but others don't. Every aspect of the working class has benefited from unions–for vacations, the weekend, the eight-hour day and benefits. This bill is about taking away all the gains the working class has made in this country and putting more profits in the pockets of fat cats.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The rich are very different from you and me." They will use wedges to divide us–racism, immigrant-bashing, homophobia. It's all meant to divide the 99 percent. We have to give up all of that.
Occupy Purdue member and rally co-organizer Tithi Bhattacharya spelled out the hypocrisy of the politicians:
They call this a democracy. Mitch Daniels listed his net wealth to be over $15 million. Is this a democracy where people like Mitch, with the swish of a pen, get to decide the wage cuts and pension cuts for the rest of us? No!
Is this a democracy when people like Mitch and his cronies moralize about "political process" to us, when thousands of ordinary people of this state stand in the corridors of this legislature for their fates to be decided by a bunch of rich folks? No!
Is this a democracy when our lives are sold by them inside fancy rooms, while we stand outside not being heard? No!
This is what democracy looks like. And politicians, you better take a good look, because this is not going to go away.
April Burke, also a member of Occupy Purdue, drew the connections between the attack unions and the repression of Occupy movement protests:
The richest people in the world have two parties, three branches of government and nearly all the media. They want war without end and surveillance without limit. They feast on our economic insecurity and fear. That is why were are united today–to oppose all that is cruel and inhumane in our society and to lift up the promise of what is to come.
The right-to-work bill and assaults on Occupy protesters amount to the same thing: an attack on people organizing for the good of all, an attack on democracy itself. That is why we are united today.
Indianapolis Education Association President Ann Wilkins joined the rally with the message that "unions are not the enemy; they're here to protect the rights of all workers." The National Nurses United and an Occupy Chicago Workers Power conference, held on January 28, sent solidarity messages and pledges of support.
State Sen. Jean Breaux and Reps. John Bartlett and Bill Crawford, all Indiana Democrats, joined Occupiers and union members at the rally to pledge their continued opposition to right to work and to ask activists to focus their attention on punishing Republicans in November.
Following the spirited speakout about 100 Occupiers and union members marched through Super Bowl village chanting "union busting is disgusting."
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THE WEEKEND rally followed larger protests the previous week involving workers from many different unions. With a seemingly inevitable vote looming on Wednesday, the state AFL-CIO said it was focusing labor's efforts on targeting six Republican senators it believes can be shifted to voting against the legislation–nine Republicans voted against right-to-work bill last week. The federation is also calling for a massive rally on Wednesday.
There have been protests outside the State House throughout the days since the 2012 legislative session opened. But many union locals and union activists made their own way to Indianapolis, and they voiced frustration at the state AFL-CIO's foot-dragging in calling for an all-out mobilization. When a call finally came last week, thousands of union members responded on short notice.
One of the most popular chants outside the State House has been "Occupy the Super Bowl"–the same message emblazoned on t-shirts worn by members of Teamsters Local 135, based in Indianapolis. The stadium where the championship game will be played, now named Lucas Oil Stadium, is 100% built by union labor. Union truck drivers have threatened to shut down downtown Indianapolis streets in opposition to the right-to-work legislation.
At the Rally for the 99 percent, Bill Mullen, a Purdue professor and Occupy Purdue member, and Purdue University Professor, called for labor to turn the Super Bowl "into a showcase for organized labor. These next eight days are going to be a relentless campaign by working people in the state of Indiana to turn the Super Bowl into a campaign for justice and jobs." The state AFL-CIO has likewise pledged to organize "activities at the Super Bowl to show the world how Hoosier workers are under attack."
Building a larger turnout for the Wednesday demonstration called by labor is important. If, as predicted, the 1 percent gets its way in the state Senate, it will be a huge blow to union power. But there is also an opportunity to channel the anger and new networks of solidarity into rebuilding working-class organization.
Crucial to this rebuilding process must be a reevaluation of the strategies and tactics that unions have stubbornly stuck to, despite dismal results and years of retreat–especially the reliance on the Democratic Party and the unwillingness to deploy the working class' most effective weapon: the ability to withhold our labor.