The Rachel Maddow Show | December 11, 2012
>>> news. you know this picture, don't you? this is martin luther king jr . standing on the steps of the lincoln memorial in our nation's capitol, august 28th , 1963 . his most famous speech, the one we call "i have a dream." you probably, however, don't know this guy standing beside dr. king that day. that's walter reuther , in some ways the inventor of the modern lane american labor movement . here he is again marching that day. he became a union organizer in michigan in the sometimes difficult and sometimes violent strikes of 1936 and '37. at the time workers in the big auto plants were coming home sick and injured and exhausted. and no matter how long or how hard they worked, they were coming home broke too. the auto companies didn't want unions, but the workers struck and they struck hard, and the workers eventually won. on february 11th , 1937 , gm signed its first contract with the uaw , the united auto workers . if you called this contract the beginning of the american middle class and michigan the birthplace of the american labor union , and walter ruther the father of all that, you probably wouldn't be much overstating your case. mr. reuther was born in west virginia . he learned tool and dye making in a union family. he moved to michigan and found a job in the automobile industry . he found his life's work in helping its workers. he said, quote, there is no greater calling than to serve your fellow men there is no greater contribution than to help the week there is no greater satisfaction than to do it well. a quarter century after that first contract with gm, walter reuther was standing up there with dr. king as president of the uaw . it's true that dr. king was a union activist himself. when dr. king was assassinated in memphis, he was in town supporting a sanitation workers strike . it is also true, however, that union activists were key supporters of civil rights . look at this picture again. the caption information that survives with it says in this front row you have leaders from the naacp, the brotherhood of sleeping carporters, walter reuther of the uaw and the secretary of the conference on civil rights . and look at the signs behind them in the crowd. end segregated rules in public schools . we demand voting rights . now jobs for all now. civil rights and union rights and economic rights side by side , marching into washington, d.c. that is how it was. when americans push for fair treatment at work, win or lose, they move as a group because they have to. their power is all in the numbers. it is a power of many working often against the power of money, or the power of entrenched incumbency. this is a power that belongs almost exclusively to unions, solidarity. and unions interpret that broadly. they see them working with the working class . so they spend their time and their money and their manpower pushing for much more than pro union legislation. unions push for better access to health care for their members and for all 000 who aren't their members. better social security and medicare and child labor laws . unions push for equal pay for women in the workplace for their members, and again, for the women who are not their members. when states try to make it harder to vote, unions push back, and they sometimes win. just ask ohio republicans who thought they could cut the time for early voting in half until this truck rolled up. it's filled with petitions to stop them. the ohio unions had worked all summer getting those signatures. when a single billionaire pours $100 billion into a republican campaign in sangle campaign section, and yes, sheldon aidle son, we're talking about you, organized labor puts his money and its manpower where its mouth is. that is part of the way sheldon a aid delson will double his spend and he is going to throw that money behind anti- union initiatives at the state level. it's also why republicans in general don't like unions since republican governors have tried to weaken unions. since the elections of 2010 we have seen this in indiana and wisconsin . republicans tried to do that in ohio too. and voters repealed the anti- union law by 22 points. today republicans succeeded in taking away union rights. they succeeded in weakening unions in the cradle of american labor , in michigan , in walter reuther 's home. it didn't even take them all that long.
>> mr. speaker, i have a question of final passage of senate bill 116. there are 58 aye votes and 52 nay.
>> having voted for, the bill is passed.
>> the michigan legislature today finished what they started out of the blue last week. they passed a pair of bills to take union rights away from public employees, and this is important, from workers in the private sector . you can see the reaction from supporters of union rights today at the capitol. more than 10,000 people gathered on the lawn outside. they say the protests today in michigan the largest the state has ever seen. the bills weaken unions in michigan by making it so that workers do not have to pay for union representation. even before the bills passed you did not have to join a bill in michigan . even if there was a union job, you didn't have to be part of it. you only had to pay your share of the cost of the union representing you. what michigan republicans approved today is a new rule that says you do not have to pay even if you are being represented. you get the perks of membership, the higher wages, the higher benefits without contributing anything. you can be a free rider . yesterday michigan 's entire democratic congressional delegation met with governor snyder and asked him to please slow the process down, to stop the bills, or at least send them out for referendum. let the people have a say. president obama had a word with governor snyder at the airport in detroit yesterday. we don't know what they said. but later that day, president obama gave a speech about the economy and the middle class in which he came out strongly against a republican plan to weaken michigan 's unions.
>> what we shouldn't be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions . [ cheering ]
>> we shouldn't be doing that. you know, these so-called right-to-work laws, they don't have anything to do with economics. they have everything to do with pliks.
>> across the state, democrats yesterday reminded governor snyder the bill was too divisive for michigan . he said that right up until last week when he called a hasty press conference to announce he had reversed his position and the legislation suddenly appeared as if by magic. the bills passed the first round of voting in roughly an hour and a half. this evening governor snyder announced that he had signed the bills into law, calling them good for workers and for freedom and for the economy. he said the rest of the protesters can finish up, and they can go home now that he was finished with his part. signed, done. the era of strong unions in the birthplace of the unions appears done. that's bad for a lot of workers. research shows worker makes more not only when they have a union , they make more even if they don't have a union , but other companies in their sector do. a rising wage lift misboats, even ones that seem far away . but it is also bad for our politics. corporations have their lobbyists and they cost a lot of money. rich guys have their cash. for a long time, a key source of power for causes as diverse as the civil rights movement and universal health care was unions, was organized labor , solidarity. a lot of americans who aren't in a union , who aren't in a union benned having organized labor as their lobbyist. we don't know what american politics looks like without that kind of solidarity, without walter reuther 's defendants trying to serve their fellow man, help the weak and do it well. the last two years from wisconsin to indiana to michigan , have they just been a period in which american labor suffered some very hard hits, but their fortunes will turn again? or is this really the end of real powerful unionism in america? joining us now is mary kay hendry, president of the service employees international union who is born and raised in the great state of michigan . miss henry, thank you very much for taking the time.
>> glad to be with you, ezra on this incredible day for working people all across the nation.
>> so tell me what is incredible about it. what comes next, not just in michigan , but for american labor ?
>> i think you just told the story beautifully. i understand there were two 90-year-old flint sit-down strike areas the rally in lansing today. and they stood up in the 1930s to build the american middle class , as we once knew it in the '50s and '60s in this country. and since 1972 , workers have been losing wage gains that were won when 30% of us had the right to bargain and lift wages for everybody. and i think snyder is action both decides that michigan needs to become a low wage economy , where you have to string together three jobs in order to make ends meet, and eliminate the remaining middle class in the state. and it's bad for economics, and it's bad for our democracy.
>> but what is the plan for american labor going forward? this has been a dispiriting year for supporters of the labor movement , or two years, actually in wisconsin and michigan and in michigan . is there in your meetings, is there a strategy for coming back? are these setbacks seen as reverbalable?
>> well, ezra , i see it as a reawake inning of people. dispiriting because the attacks have been so relentless. it's a attacks on workers, on planned parenthood , on immigrants. it's all connected in our minds. so we are reawakening and going to build a powerful movement that we're going to build power in the workplace, build power at the ballot box , build power in the communities. and make it crystal clear that snyder can't get away with this by building a more powerful worker community movement in the state of michigan and rebuilding a middle class , not just in michigan , but all across this country.
>> supporters of these laws, i don't really like to call them right-to-work laws, i think it's just framing. but support sayers why should you, if you have been hired by an employer, gm maybe, why should you have to pay to be represented by a union that you didn't vote for and maybe that you don't want to join? maybe you don't like unions in general. what is your response to folks who think this just makes sense. we shouldn't have to pay for things that we didn't explicitly opt into.
>> i don't think government should interfere in the decision between working people and their employers. and there are lots of ways in which workers make the decision when they bargain their contracts and vote on their contracts about the rules of the road . and this is a situation where government is deciding to intervene in a labor management relationship in a system where labor laws are broken, they side with corporations and the wealthy. and it's why wages have remained stagnant for 30 years. and we have got to rebuild our power in the democracy and in our economy so we can lift wages for everybody, get this country back to work, and make service jobs jobs that people can raise their families on and expect that their kids are going to do better.
>> do you think specifically in michigan there is an opportunity for appeal?
>> i know that that is being considered, ezra . but here is what i think. i think the labor movement is going toe join hand with the community movement. we're going to organize like you've never seen before. we're going to assist the walmart workers that are trying to say to walmart let's get off food stamps and get a wage where we can actually feed our families without relying on government assistance. we've got to do more private sector organizing. yes, we can make an appeals in the electoral session. we need to send a message to the governor and republicans that we're not going to tolerate this. but we're going to organize on many fronts simultaneously.
>> mary kay henry, president of the service employees international union . thank you very much for being here tonight.
>> thank you.
>> much more news tonight, including some breaking news that the world sort of saw coming from the korean peninsula . stick