If there are two things The Scrapbook has learned during the past two years, it’s that when the privileges of labor unions are addressed by democratically elected legislatures—usually during harsh economic times—you can be sure that the unions will descend on state capitals with marches, epithets, threats of violence, violence, illegal occupations, and vandalism. Call it antidemocracy in response to democracy.
This was last seen in Wisconsin in 2011, when Governor Scott Walker did the citizens of his state a huge favor by reforming collective bargaining statutes that had tied the hands of local governments when dealing with public-employee unions. This demanded no small measure of courage on Walker’s part—and not just because Wisconsin is a birthplace of modern liberalism, but because it required him to stand firm in the face of the very worst those unions (and their Democratic allies in the legislature) could throw at him. Literally.
Of course, Walker prevailed, and survived a subsequent recall vote. But not without political cost—which is probably what prompted Michigan governor Rick Snyder to announce last month that, on the whole, he would rather not sign legislation making Michigan, one of the most heavily unionized states in America, a right-to-work state. (Right-to-work laws allow workers to decide for themselves whether they join, or financially support, labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining.)
Such caution, however, did not persuade Snyder’s fellow Republicans in the legislature, who saw that voters had just rejected a controversial pro-union referendum to guarantee and enshrine union prerogatives in the state constitution. So in a bid to loosen the longtime AFL-CIO stranglehold, and make Michigan more economically competitive and create jobs, they voted to make it a right-to-work state. Governor Snyder signed the measure into law—but not before the state capitol at Lansing had come to resemble Madison, Wisconsin, last year: marches, sit-ins, violent threats, and violence.
Which brings us to the second thing The Scrapbook has learned: How the media treat mass demonstrations is governed largely by who’s doing the demonstrating. We need hardly recount the noncoverage of giant pro-life marches in Washington, year after year. And readers will recall reports (all subsequently discredited) of assaults and racial epithets at the birth of the Tea Party movement in 2009. So contentious media coverage of peaceful demonstrations is especially galling in light of the media blackout on union violence.
Reality, in that sense, is turned upside-down: Conservative movements are repeatedly accused of things that don’t happen, while union mobs are consistently bathed in silence about violence that does happen. If you watch the network news programs, or read the New York Times, you wouldn’t know that union voices in Michigan have called for “civil war,” or that union demonstrators have randomly assaulted opponents and destroyed property. You would think that union members are picketing peacefully, handing out leaflets to interested passersby, and lamenting the passage of an “unpopular” bill. In one classic formulation, the Toledo Blade reported that the demonstrations in Lansing were “mostly peaceful.”
Well, of course. And during the Battle of Britain, most of Britain wasn’t bombed.