Following on from last year’s battles in Wisconsin and Ohio, the latest key battleground state on union rights is Indiana (where a similar battle last spring was ended when state Democrats prevented a vote in the legislature by absenting themselves and denying the Republicans a quorum). State Republicans are seeking to introduce the same ”right to work” laws that exist in 22 other states of the USA (there’s a great explanation of the issue – and a map of which states have such laws - on the Bad for Indiana website) and hinder the trade union movement’s ability to bargain collectively over pay, or ensure decent health and safety laws.
Whilst these moves by Republicans (often backed by the employers who will directly benefit) have all been couched in terms of public sector austerity or competitiveness and job creation (and rebutted by unions and their allies concerned that they will actually lead to greater inequality, lower wages and worse terms and conditions for workers generally), there’s more than a hint of pre-Presidential politicking in the air. These states are key Presidential battleground states, and a key objective of the right is to cripple unions so that they are less able to help Obama and the Democrats win the forthcoming Presidential and Congressional elections in the fall. Even when the right loses, they very often drag the unions into hugely expensive campaigns which drain them of money they would otherwise be able to use in get-out-the-vote campaigns, and persuading members to vote for candidates who share union policies on issues like the economy and workers’ rights.
But it’s a high risk strategy, as the crushing defeat of the move in Ohio showed last fall, and the recall elections which saw Republicans lose out in the Wisconsin legislature last year (and which could also affect the Governor this year) show. In Indiana, where the iconic US football Super Bowl takes place in Indianapolis on 5 February, it has prompted the football players’ union which represents every single player in that competition to protest, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reports in this fabulous newscast. That could impact seriously on Republican support, whatever happens in the Indiana state legislature.
Unions in Indiana are of course campaigning against this move by state Republicans, and have a great toolkit on the state AFLCIO website.