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March 24, 2023
A follow-up to last night’s examination of the confusion among the Republicans about their budget plans: today when a reporter said to House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) that the chair of the House Budget Committee, Jodey Arrington (R-TX), had said that he and McCarthy were finalizing a list of proposals to give to President Biden about spending cuts, McCarthy answered: “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
Noise also continues from former president Donald Trump, who early this morning posted on social media that his indictment could lead to “potential death & destruction”; hours later, Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg received a death threat in an envelope with white powder in it. For three days this week, Russian accounts have emailed bomb threats to the court buildings where the grand jury is meeting.
Tomorrow, Trump will hold a rally in Waco, Texas, where a 1993 government siege to extricate the leader of a religious cult who witnesses said was stockpiling weapons led to a gun battle and a fire that left seventy-six people dead.
Although a Republican investigation cited “overwhelming evidence” that exonerated the government of wrongdoing, right-wing talk radio hosts jumped on the events at Waco to attack the administration of Democratic president Bill Clinton. Rush Limbaugh stoked his listeners’ anger with talk of the government’s “murder” of citizens, and Alex Jones dropped out of community college to start a talk show on which he warned that the government had “murdered” the people at Waco and was about to impose martial law.
After the Waco siege the modern militia movement took off, and Trump is clearly using the anniversary to tap into domestic violence against the government to defend him in advance of possible indictments.
But will it work? His supporters turned out on January 6, 2021, when he was president and had the power—they thought—to command the army to back him. In the end, that didn’t happen. Since then, Trump’s foot soldiers have been going to prison while he dines at Mar-a-Lago and rails about how unfairly he has been treated.
Trump is also in more trouble today, as Judge Beryl Howell ruled last week that Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, former director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe, former top Department of Homeland Security official Ken Cuccinelli, former national security advisor Robert O'Brien, former top aide Stephen Miller, former deputy chief of staff and social media director Dan Scavino, and former Trump aides Nick Luna and John McEntee all have to testify before the federal grand jury investigating Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Special counsel Jack Smith had subpoenaed these members of the Trump administration, and Trump had tried to stop their testimony by claiming it was covered by executive privilege. Howell rejected that claim. In the past, she rejected a similar claim by arguing that only the current president has the right to claim executive privilege and Biden had declined to do so. Meadows is the key witness to Trump’s involvement in the events of January 6.
Also today, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a repeal of so-called right-to-work legislation passed in 2012 by a Republican-controlled legislature, whose members pushed it through in a lame-duck session without hearings.
That legislation had a long history. U.S. employers had opposed workers’ unions since the organization of the National Labor Union in 1866, but the rise of international communism in the early twentieth century provoked a new level of violence against organized workers. In 1935, as part of the New Deal, Democrats passed the National Labor Relations Act, popularly known as the Wagner Act, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed it into law.
The Wagner Act confirmed workers’ right to organize and to bargain with employers collectively (although to appease southern Democrats, it exempted domestic and agricultural workers, who in the South were mostly Black). It also defined unfair labor practices and established a new National Labor Relations Board that could issue cease and desist orders if workers testified that employers were engaging in them.
The Wagner Act gave workers a unified voice in American politics and leveled the playing field between them and employers. But while most Americans of both parties liked the Wagner Act, right-wing Republicans hated it because it put large sums of money into the hands of labor officials, who used the money to influence politics. And organized workers had backed Democrats since the 1860s.
So, in 1947, a Republican-led Congress pushed back against the Wagner Act. The previous year, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) had launched “Operation Dixie” to organize Black workers, which seemed a threat to segregation as well as white employers. Together, business Republicans and segregationist Democrats passed the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, better known as the Taft-Hartley Act. Ohio Senator Robert Taft (who was the son of President William Howard Taft) claimed that the Taft-Hartley Act would simply equalize power between workers and employers after the “completely one-sided” Wagner Act gave all the power to labor leaders.
The Taft-Hartley Act limited the ways in which workers could organize; it also went after unions’ money. Although the Wagner Act had established that if a majority of a company’s workers voted to join a union, that union would represent all the workers in the company, it didn’t require all the workers to join that union. That presented a problem: if workers were going to get the benefits of union representation without joining, why should they bother to pay dues?
So labor leaders began to require that everyone employed in a unionized company must pay into the union to cover the cost of bargaining, whether or not they joined the union.
The Taft-Hartley Act undermined this workaround by permitting states to get rid of the requirement that employees who didn’t join a union that represented them must pay fees to the union.
Immediately, states began to pass so-called right-to-work laws. Their supporters argued that every man should have the right to bargain for his work on whatever terms he wanted, without oversight by a union. But lawmakers like Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), who pushed a right-to-work law in his own state, were clear that they were intent on breaking the power of organized workers. He was determined to destroy the political power of unions because, he said, their leaders were stealing American freedom. They were, he said, “more dangerous than Soviet Russia.”
Michigan had been known as a pro-union state, but in 2012, Republicans there pushed through two right-to-work laws over waves of protest. Repealing the laws has been a priority for Democrats, and now that they are in control of state government, they have made it happen.
Joey Cappelletti of the Associated Press notes that twenty-six states currently have right to work laws, and although Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected a right-to-work law in 2017, it has been 58 years since a state repealed one. Indiana voters repealed theirs in 1965; Republicans put it back into place in 2012.
Republicans say that since the neighboring states of Indiana and Wisconsin have right-to-work laws—although there were huge protests when those laws went into place in 2012 and 2015—Michigan’s repeal of right to work will make that state less attractive to employers.
But after signing the law today, Governor Whitmer embraced a different vision for the state, saying: "Today, we are coming together to restore workers' rights, protect Michiganders on the job, and grow Michigan's middle class."