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A little over a month after Democrats retook the White House and gained seats in both houses of Congress, organized labor, a key part of the Democratic coalition, suffered a big loss in Michigan, a state President Barack Obama won by almost 10 percentage points.
On Tuesday, Michigan became a right-to-work state. Workers will no longer be required to pay union dues to maintain their job. Michigan follows Indiana, which made the same change earlier this year. But Michigan is more significant because, in many ways, Michigan can be considered the home of the labor movement.
If Democrats are doing so well at winning elections, why have labor unions suffered such big losses?
First, while Republicans performed poorly in federal elections, they have not done as poorly in state level elections. Most governors are Republican and Republicans hold a majority of state legislature seats.
"There was a mixed result on Nov. 6," Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, said about Michigan in a Tuesday interview on PBS' "Newshour." "Republicans still control state government. They've got an ironclad grip, from the governor's office, the statehouse, the state Supreme Court, the attorney general, the secretary of state."
Republicans will, though, have a slimmer majority in the state house next year, Ballenger pointed out, so "the window was closing" on their best opportunity to pass the law.
Second, with high unemployment, proposals aimed at increasing the number of jobs in a state become harder to oppose. States that do not have right-to-work laws generally have higher wages, but states that have right-to-work laws generally have lower unemployment. With that trade-off -- higher wages versus more jobs -- policy makers are likely driven to prefer more jobs under current economic conditions.
In a Wednesday interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said the main reason he signed the bill was to give workers freedom of choice, but a side benefit will be the additional jobs that will be created as a result. Since Indiana became a right-to-work state, Snyder claimed, 31 different companies moved to the state, partly because of the change, and have created thousands of jobs.
"The writing is really on the wall. As the economy has weakened, the right-to-work movement has strengthened," A.B. Stoddard, columnist for The Hill, said Tuesday on Fox News' "Special Report."
And third, opposing freedom of choice may simply be a losing argument in American politics.
"There is an interesting argument, in principle, about freedom of choice," conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said Tuesday on Fox News' "Special Report." "Democrats famously call themselves 'pro-choice.' That's only about aborting a fetus, but when it comes to choosing a school for your child, they are not in favor of that, and when it comes to choosing whether you should be forced into a union or not, they are not in favor. So it's a rather problematic and, I would say, unilateral claim to be pro-choice."