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Joe Lapointe

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Will Republican Union-bashing Draw Backlash in Indiana?

Posted: 01/14/12 06:26 PM ET

National Football League players, even when their union is locked out by their bosses, rarely connect on an economic level with laborers in the general population. Some athletes' salaries are closer to those of the 1 percent who hold most American economic power than to those of the 99 percent who don't.

Last week, a half dozen NFL guys from Indiana made a halfhearted gesture of solidarity when they opposed the onerous Republican-sponsored so-called right-to-work bill that will reduce the power of unions in the Hoosier State.

But it was not as if Jay Cutler, Rex Grossman, Courtney Roby, Trai Essex, Mark Clayton or Kris Dielman promised even an informational picket line when all the Rush Limbaugh-type swells descend from their private jets to feast at the corporate Woodstock of the Super Bowl in Indianapolis on Sunday, Feb. 5.

By then, the battle could be over and the unions may have lost. Governor Mitch Daniels, one of several anti-worker Republican governors in the industrial Great Lakes region, appears to have the votes and the momentum to successfully conclude a right-wing attack on unions in a presidential election year.

Late Wednesday, the Indiana House announced a few round of hearings on the bill to take place next Tuesday, with a vote possible later in the week.

However -- perhaps! -- winning could be counterproductive, igniting a backlash like the recall campaign against Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin or the referendum rejection of Gov. John Kasich's legislation in Ohio. It might be that the tea party types have again overplayed their hand.

In the meantime, Indiana unions and their Democratic supporters find themselves contemplating third down and long yardage to go with time ticking off the legislative clock.

"We know we can't stay out indefinitely," minority leader Pat Bauer told National Public Radio, regarding the brief Democratic boycott this week. "But we did need to slow the process down, which we've succeeded in doing."

Democrats have walked out on legislative sessions. Union protestors booed Gov. Daniels Tuesday night when he gave his State of the State address. But the Republicans hold a 60-40 voting edge in the state House and appear ready to approve legislation taking away unions' right to assess dues from workers protected by unions in private businesses.

The Indianapolis Star reported that many Democratic chairs were empty when Daniels spoke and quoted a Teamster who said he once voted for Daniels.

"Mitch is a liar!" the man shouted, along with other protestors. "No right-to-work!"

The paper also reported that the Democratic Party of Indiana called Daniels' speech "fifteen minutes of historic back-patting, a few minutes of storytelling and a load of propaganda about policies that will harm working Hoosiers."

Despite Daniels' insistence that surveys show a majority of his state's citizens want the new law, the Star reported that the only nonpartisan poll -- taken by Ball State University -- showed 27 percent support it, 24 percent oppose it and 48 percent are undecided or lacking enough information to decide.

As Daniels left the building, protestors shouted, "Shame on you!"

Some of the scenes and sounds in the hallways Tuesday resembled those of last winter in Wisconsin when Democrats and unionists opposed Gov. Walker's effort to limit collective bargaining rights of public sector unions.

Although Walker won that battle, he could lose the larger war because his many foes hope to recall him, just as they have recalled two Republican state senators there.

When Gov. Kasich of Ohio tried a similar bill last year, his effort was overwhelmingly voted down in a referendum in November.

There are 22 other states with right-to-work laws, most of them in the South and the West. The last state to vote in favor was Oklahoma in 2001. A victory for reactionary Republicans in Indiana would represent a significant incursion of their ideology into the Northeast.

The region could be pivotal this fall as President Barack Obama runs for re-election, perhaps against Mitt Romney, a venture capitalist whose father was an auto executive and governor of Michigan. Many automobile-related jobs remain in the Great Lakes region.

When the economy crashed at the end of the George Bush presidency, Romney said auto companies should go bankrupt. Instead, Obama saved them and the jobs that come with them. Romney last week said he enjoys firing people.

In 2008, running against Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama carried the 79 electoral votes of Wisconsin (10), Illinois (21), Indiana (11), Ohio (20) and Michigan (17).

Republican supporters tout the Indiana bill as good for job creation. But a Bloomberg report showed that the average worker in a right-to-work state is paid $30,167 per year, about $5,333 less than workers in states without the rule, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

The New York Times reported opposition to Daniels from Jim Robinson, a United Steelworkers official in Indiana, who said: "It's a political attack on what the Republicans see as one of their main opponents -- organized labor. They want to weaken unions to help assure continued Republican majorities."

But in the interest of fairness and balance, it should be acknowledged that the right-wing Wall Street Journal -- Rupert Murdoch's top American paper -- managed to see the business-owner side of the issue in an editorial.

The WSJ called the Indiana fight "the labor reform story of the year" and lashed out at what it called "Big Labor" for portraying it as a radical change.

"If Indiana joins the club, it would send a message that even voters in industrial states realize their overall business climate must take precedence over union power," the WSJ wrote. "If President Obama really wants to revive U.S. manufacturing and exports, he'd make all of America right-to-work. But Indiana would be a splendid new precedent."

They're right about part of that last part. It would be a "new precedent;" but it would not be "splendid" for everyone.

This post originally appeared on Current.com.

 

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