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What Michigan Overturning Right to Work Means


Greg Sargent has a good piece in the Post thinking through what it means for Michigan to overturn its right to work law. Specifically, what does this signal about the current Democratic Party? We had a good talk about this late last week and the main point I made was that we are in new era of Democrats, not necessarily in the gerontocracy that is Democratic Party leadership (if not so much in the House anymore, definitely in the Senate), but at the state level. The era of trying to claim Democrats are “socially liberal but economically moderate” is basically over, especially in states such as Michigan. There’s just no good political reason to even play that game. Anyway, a bit of this got in the final article and I wanted to highlight the whole thing for you.

Republicans often talk about the culture wars in class terms. Party leaders say their “anti-woke” agenda embodies “working-class values.” Republicans who lean toward populism go further, genuinely trying — to some limited degree — to create a pro-worker agenda that combines economic and culturally conservative or reactionary appeals.

Democrats, by contrast, are regularly sucked into fruitless battles over whether to emphasize economic or social issues. This is often a proxy for a dispute over which groups in their coalition to prioritize: working-class voters, especially Whites who have been abandoning the party, or more affluent, culturally liberal suburbanites.

But these Michigan developments hint at a more nuanced approach — one grounded in a bet on the changing nature of the American working class and its place in the Democratic coalition.

In the emerging Democratic reading, the old vision of a White, male, breadwinning working class concentrated in burly jobs shapes much political analysis, but it’s a pundit fiction. With service, retail and health-care sectors growing as manufacturing and mining jobs dwindle, the new working class is far more ethnically and culturally diverse — and more socially liberal — than commonly supposed.

Those developments are entangled with the decline of labor, which has partly resulted from many “right to work” laws such as the one in Michigan. This has produced a crucial combination in today’s working class, as Rich Yeselson explains in the American Prospect: It’s both more diverse in ethnicity and life experience and less represented by unions than before.

What Michigan Democrats are doing reflects these deep currents. Repealing “right to work” is meant to rebuild labor representation (a long, difficult task) and working-class support. But it also shows the party no longer fears that robust social liberalism will alienate working-class voters.

“We have this vision of the working class as socially conservative,” labor historian Erik Loomis told me. “This is largely not true.” The new working class, he said, represents “the broad diversity of the United States,” so choosing between economic and cultural issues is a “sucker’s game.”

Camilleri sees this firsthand. Michigan still has many manufacturing workers. But many are non-White, and a large, diverse service workforce also turns out for Democrats. On top of that, he says, many working-class women — Whites included — voted for Democrats in 2022 “because of abortion rights.”

I can’t state this point strongly enough. You stand up for positions because they are right. Trying to soften that or play some games by the rules set by the other side is just idiotic. It is a zero win, all lose game. Don’t be an idiot. Just stand up for the right things and make the case the best you can. Then, if you do lose like, say, Heidi Heitkamp after voting against Brett Kavanaugh, you go down with all your dignity.

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