A look back on unions and political clout - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

A look back on unions and political clout

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(12/06/12) - The reaction to the Right to Work legislation is not surprising, given the state's long history with the labor movement. Here's a look back on organized labor and the political clout it has had through the years.

Many historians say the modern labor movement started in Michigan, and Flint played a vital role. For the past 75 years, unions have shaped the state's politics and economy.

When employees began the famous Sit down Strike at the Fisher Body plant on South Saginaw and Chevy in the Hole in Flint, they gave voice to the working class - which had little political influence at the time. Through the years, many politicians were elected because of backing from the unions.

But 31 years ago, President Reagan reacted strongly to a strike by PATCO, the air traffic controllers union.

"Ever since 1981, when President Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers, I think there's been a change in the political composition of the United States, with Republicans becoming much more conservative," said Jason Kosnoski, political science professor at University of Michigan-Flint.

Since then, several states have passed Right to Work legislation, whittling away at organized labor's political impact.

"I think that clout is not nearly as strong. We can see that with the defeat of Prop 2. Unions have been taking a beating, especially industrialized unions like the UAW, which was so strong in Michigan," Kosnoski said.

If the Right to Work legislation passes the Michigan Legislature, Kosnoski says unions will seek revenge.

"I think this is going to backfire. I really believe that. I think Gov. Snyder is going to have a really strong price to pay for making this move," Kosnoski said.

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