When one thinks of the City of Detroit, many possible images scrounge to the surface. Perhaps it's the Detroit Tigers set to make their second World Series appearance in six years. Maybe it's the resurgent Detroit Lions returning to the Monday Night Football party on a regular basis after an extended drought. It might even be the unfair labels regarding its scenery in recent years by many who have never even stepped within the city limits. None of these perspectives capture what Detroit has truly meant not only to America but to the world.
During the crisis of World War II, with France fallen and England backpedaled into the confines of its own island, the situation was grim and growing impossibly bleaker by the day. The United States not only needed supplies for itself but also for its allies on the English Channels of defeat. President Roosevelt turned to Detroit to literally produce a manufacturing miracle, and the Motor City answered the call. By 1944, Detroit was humming better than any city in the world, producing one bomber per hour on its second-to-none assembly lines, arming America and its allies faster than the Axis Powers could even conceive of destroying them. It was Detroit and Michigan's finest hour, causing one American pundit to play on an English phrase, "England's battles were won on the playing fields of Eton. America's were won on the assembly lines of Detroit." President Franklin Delano Roosevelt agreed, honoring the Motor City with the label the "great arsenal of democracy".
It's been a long transition from those glory days, when union muscle and relentlessness built the weapons and supplies that propelled the United States and its allies to victory in Europe and Asia. The labor movement has been bombarded in recent decades by numerous institutions looking to strip unions of their collective bargaining power. On this November 6th, a proposal (Proposal 2) will be on the ballots of Michigan voters that would protect the collective bargaining rights of Michigan workers. The proposal honors Detroit and Michigan's past accomplishments while simultaneously protecting the future of its residents. And the Detroit Free Press has publicly opposed it.
Proposal 2, though much discussed, is quite simple. Its language reads verbatim as follows: Grant public and private employees the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively through labor unions. That's it. All Proposal 2 seeks is an opportunity for Michigan employees to have a say in their own future -- to prevent a unilateral source, such as state or local officials, from having the power to say which topics employees can and cannot collectively bargain. Collective bargaining is a power-sharing structure, much like the checks-and-balances systems used by the United States government, and it allows employees a say in their own future and a right to defend themselves. It's a good thing.
Detroit rose to prominence through the sweat and muscle of union workers who possessed this right, and no outlet in circulation today should know that better than the Detroit Free Press. And that is why the Free Press gave the City of Detroit an enormous backhand to the face when it wrote "as rich as Michigan's collective bargaining history is" there is "just no good reason" to support Proposal 2. The Free Press even resorted to scare tactics normally only reserved for political campaigns, as they lamented, "Even criminal background checks for teachers or drug testing for cops and firefighters would be subject to bargaining."
Michigan has been battling economic depression and the ominous fact its greatest export in recent years is its own youth, and the Detroit Free Press has instead decided to aim its crosshairs at the likes of teachers, firefighters and police officers as one of Michigan's biggest problems. These professions are not social pariahs attempting to hide criminals or drug addicts -- they're the backbone of our society and simply do not receive the respect they honestly deserve, and any other implication is extraordinary unfair, dishonest and disrespectful. Our teachers, firefighters and police officers are not the problem -- their losing the right to protect and bargain for their own economic futures is the problem.
I am a Michigan native and resident, and the son of a Teamster who is a UPS driver. He is the hardest worker I have ever known, and every day I try to emulate the drive and determination of my father and mother. UPS and the Teamsters have collaborated to keep UPS one of the most profitable corporations in the world, while simultaneously providing some of the best healthcare in America for its employees. My family has been able to live the American dream, with my sister and me being the first members of our immediate family to graduate from college (and I was able to earn a Master's degree in political science as well). Collective bargaining has made my family's American dream come to fruition, and Proposal 2 will allow the American dream to continue well into the future.
The Detroit Free Press has rallied against collective bargaining, the very thing that made Detroit a world power. As a Michigan native and resident, to paraphrase the late-US Senator Robert Byrd, today I weep for my State.
Scott Janssen is a recent graduate of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with a Masters in political science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.