I raised an eyebrow when I saw news that President Obama was traveling to Detroit this afternoon to make his case on the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Presidential destinations are never random. There are usually several reasons for the choice of the destination. With Michigan in the throes of a fight between Republicans in the State House and Big Labor, it seemed likely the President was making a show of support for this critical Democrat constituency. It turns out I was right.
The Obama administration told labor leaders that the president will also be weighing in on the right-to-work fight in his speech, according to union officials who spoke with The Huffington Post.
The fight for worker freedom in Michigan has largely flown under the national radar. The kabuki theater of the “fiscal cliff” has consumed just about all the political oxygen. But, the fight there is important. The loss of mandatory dues from workers’ paychecks would be devastating to unions and their political agenda. Obama and the Democrats understand that, even if most national Republicans and conservatives are largely AWOL.
Last year Indiana became the first state in around 20 years to enact a Right-to-work law. There was wide speculation at the time whether other states would follow suit, in a bid to stay competitive with the Hoosier State. Almost no one, however, would have predicted Michigan would have been the next state to enact the law protecting workers’ freedom. The state is home to the UAW, after all, and unions there have long had a lock on state government. Their grip seems to have been broken.
Big Labor loudly criticized Obama for not weighing in during last year’s fight in Wisconsin. There, government reforms withstood a blistering attack from labor unions. Labor had hoped Obama would come to their assistance. Of course, he was gearing up then for reelection and so stayed out of the fray in the competitive state.
Obama’s foray into the state to assist his labor allies is perhaps just a glimpse of what we can expect in the next four years. Freed from the constraints of reelection, Obama can be Obama.