NOW with Alex Wagner | December 13, 2012
>> yes, it is. that's the cold truth!
>>> stung about michigan 's decision to ramp through a controversial right to work law, unions are preparing to fight back. how? revenge. in two years. michigan afl-cio president carla swift told the detroit free press, "the sleeping tiger is awake now. we have 2014 as a goal to shift out and win justice." in other words, they're gearing up for a major battle to oust michigan 's republican governor rick snyder in 2014 as well as conservative politicians who swept into statehouses across the country in 2010 . according to politico, unions already have the infrastructure in place to wage battles outside michigan in states like pennsylvania and wisconsin where they unsuccessfully fought earlier this year to recall prn governor scott walker . joining us now from washington is a look at labor strategy going forward is the president of the service employees international union , sciu, mary kay henry . mary kay henry , thank you for joining us.
>> thank you.
>> so give us an insight into this strategy. obviously the union movement going directly after ohio and wisconsin and now in michigan , so give us a strategy in 2014 . what does sciu and sister union, what do you plan to do?
>> we think we need to make the case to the people of michigan and all across this country that wage inequality is the number one problem our nation needs to solve, and in michigan that means joining hands between the million union members, a million more community partners and galvanizing two million people to hold our elected officials in michigan accountable to rebuilding the middle class , and you don't rebuild the middle class by tearing unions apart. so we have to have a multi-year, multi-pronged approach. we need to celebrate wal-mart strikers for jobs they can support their families on. we have to work with business that 79s wants to work with us because we need to put more money in workers' pockets so people can start spending again, and we can help speed economic recovery in this -- in michigan and all across the country.
>> well, i mean, you are talking about the message there, and obviously, the unions will mount a messaging campaign against what governor rick snyder did, but many terms of infrastructure, if you look at the three states where this battle has played out, the only one where unions have been successful in beating back the legislation is in ohio where it just so happens that police and firefighters were not exempt from the legislation. they were exempt in wisconsin . they they are exempt in michigan . you lack sort of that piece of the messaging strategy, so what are you going to do specifically in michigan ? do you have, you know, already phone banks going? are you guys going -- what is your strategic plan beyond just messaging to working people ?
>> i think it's that we have to organize at a level and depth we've never done before. there's a million people that are parts of unions in michigan . we're going to reach out to every one of them. we're doing a training today. we're going to do one-on-one conversations like we do in electoral activity to get every member to resign a card both for political action and for union membership , and make sure we register people to vote. we think the reason we won in ohio is baugh because bargaining matters for building the mrilgdz class, and it's the questions in michigan and in wisconsin were about candidates and issues, and so that's we think we need to expand this fight beyond simply electoral strategy and include private sector organizing, community organizing , and building a force that overtakes this right wing agenda to disimagines unions, not just in those three states, but all across this country.
>> hold on just one second. the reason that i asked the sciu president about what their strategy is beyond messaging is part of the problem for unions that it depends on what kind of union you are talking about, how much support you get? in michigan you are talking about autoworkers.
>> in ohio you were talking about police, firefighters, people who are generally popular. when you are talking about teachers, nurses, the kind of people represented by sciu, you kind of get one vibe from the public, but when you talk about teamsters and autoworkers, you get another.
>> i have never heard as much conversation as i've heard in the last week over, wow, you know what, if you take a grab and you look in the 1970s as when wages -- average wages, started to decline for workers and you put another number in there and another line and it's unionization rates and those two things go down almost together in lock step, i mean, that's true, and it's a really graphic example of why unions matter.
>> absolutely. i think mary kay 's point about how you really can't have a sustainable recovery unless you put more money in the pockets of the average worker. if you think about it, our economy is made up 70% of consumer spending . right? in the last three years 90%, 93%, actually, of all of the wage gains in this country have gone to the top 1%. you can do the math. you can't have a sustainable recovery with dynamics like that, and i think that's a very important point.
>> well, i want to ask you about -- i think most americans agree with those points and that people are on the side of working people , at least they were in this election. those messages work for democrats, but maggie, just from a practical political point of view, democrats are now losing these battles in states that obama won handily. they're losing them in places like wisconsin and michigan . do democrats have to worry that republicans will just say we don't care about any of that, we don't care about what you just said about working people . we have the power to do this, and we're going to do it right. we're going to do right to work because it hurts our biggest political opponent , the unions.
>> i think that in terms of whether this spreads to other states, i think it will be a wait and see, right? remember that snyder had telegraphed he wouldn't do this. this is very, very surprising. i think that we are going to see what the full-out is from this before we find out how broad this is going to be. i think that you are seeing something of a split. i think that as has been discussed here, the election in 2012 showed that romney lost the fight for the middle class , right? he lost the fight for not just messaging, but on policy on middle class . he couldn't make a convincing case. republicans up and down the ticket had this problem. however, earlier a couple months earlier, you had the bad defeat for labor in terms of the walker recall, so i think that this is why you are not seeing right now an effort to do something similar. i think there is a chance that you will see something like this spread, but this is not really where -- republicans are not embracing this right now.
>> can i just say --
>> i disagree.
>> there's a really considered effort over several years, over five or six years, among the gop, to build an infrastructure to win state elections .
>> it's not a state and state thing. it's a national infrastructure to take money from all the big donors around the country and win elections at the state level. this happened in michigan because they have the votes, because they controlled the ledge, and the governor's office. power begets power, and you can win when you actually have the votes. that's what really happened here. it was in the works for a long time. it wasn't that it just happened. it was in the works for a long time.
>> right. even though the governor, rick snyder , didn't talk about it, but mary kay henry wanted to make a final point.
>> i just disagree with the idea that it's wait and see. we know that ohio , missouri, kansas are all considering right to work legislation in january, and i agree with the last speaker's point. this is a 30-year assault to dismantle worker organization because it allows the wealthy incorporations to set low wages and put profits above people in this country, and it destroys our democracy because workers have the resources to be able to fight not just for union rights, but for environmental protections, for voting rights .
>> for women.
>> for protecting planned parenthood , for immigration rights, and that's why there is going to be such a systematic attack. now that they couldn't suppress the vote, they're now going to try to take worker organizations off the playing field for 2014 and 2016 .
>> that's a different point than i was making. i think it's much less likely this time, legislation like this.
>> scott walker said today or yesterday that he will not pursue right to work legislation in wisconsin . he saw the --
>> because they're you will up in 2014 . they're all up in 2014 . exactly. you know, it shouldn't be lost on everyone that sciu represents a union that has a lot of women, a lot of minorities. it's the kind of entity you might want want to constantly be messaging against if you are a republican. thank you so much, sciu president mary kay henry . thank you for joining us. coming up, connecticut is kind of sort of one-time democrat joe lieberman bids a heart felt adu to the senate. we'll take a look at the