Indiana, “right to work” laws, and “Power in a Union” – Fridays with Billy

This week, my neighboring state of Indiana became a “Right to Work” state — which sounds oddly like it’s now a better place to work, rather than part of a larger, nation-wide effort to gut unions and strip away the rights that the labor movement has battled for decades to establish (and from which we all benefit, whether or not we are union members – as but one example: Planning to enjoy a two-day weekend this week? Thank a union).

Are unions perfect vessels of workers’ better angels? No. Nothing humanity does is. But I figure unions are an awful lot like democracy: A terrible mess that is immeasurably better than anything else on offer.

My great-grandfather Carl (married to great-grandma Emily) was a union organizer in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and I have never felt anything but deepest pride in that fact. It breaks my heart that working men and women are having to fight so hard to hold on to, or entirely re-establish, the kinds of rights that I’m sure he wanted to see made permanent — such as the simple right to organize, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23, sec 4).

And so, given the ongoing assault on workers’ rights (Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, anyone?), it’s time to allow my beloved Billy Bragg to be his most rabble-rousing socialist self, and remind us that there is, indeed, power in a union.

Which is precisely why the right doesn’t want unions to survive.

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a Union.

full lyrics;What is Fridays with Billy?



  1. Ah yes, Indiana, the state that tried to declare that pi was equal to 3 … I do like the low cost of living here, but I dislike the concern that so many residents seem to exhibit with respect to the future.

    Property tax caps are good, because our taxes should be lower! (Well, “our” meaning “us rich white folk, you know”. Other tax caps, like on sales tax, well, those just aren’t necessary. One part that really irked me was when certain people were fighting reassessments because they said they could no longer afford to live in their houses … hmm, you mean these half-million- or million-dollar homes that are yours, free and clear? Yeah, there’s no way you can afford to pay more taxes on those. Good call.) Oh noes, our schools are getting worse, whatsoever shall we do? Oh, charter schools, that’ll fix it!

    Oh noes, the budget’s out of whack, whatsoever shall we do? Sell the toll road! Great idea! Gosh, unemployment is rising, what can we do? I know – put nearly a billion dollars into sports stadiums! And get the Super Bowl to come here, that’ll create jobs!

    Oh noes, that’s still not enough … I know, let’s make sure that those big, bad unions can’t take our money! Woo hoo! Now we’ll have a secure economic future forever!


    As noted on other posts, there are some people who are actively out to screw over those who are not like them. This is the old “power corrupts” thing, and there will always be some people like that. Unfortunately, these days there seem to be more of them than usual, and the people who are responsible for getting them into power have been very good at how it’s happened. (Finance the right state-level candidates, get control, do redistricting to keep your control … repeat …)

    But there are other people who simply don’t seem to care about consequences, and those are the ones that I really wonder about. How many of them are also complaining about their jobs: longer hours than they expected for lower pay, less job security, worse benefits … and why do they think that is? Because there are no forces strong enough to push back.

    Sure, unions do things with which we may not agree, particularly in an environment where there are both union and non-union employees (my current assignment and my previous full-time job were with companies like that: non-union office folks and union plant folks), but there’s a reason why it works that way. Look at Obama and the current House: he seems to be starting with a position of compromise, rather than his actual position. A best-case scenario is that he gets only the compromise; a worst-case scenario is that he gets nothing. That works to a certain extent, because it highlights Republican intransigence and can appeal to voters to fix the problem by voting out GOP extremists … but in the workplace, there is no way to vote out management. To reach some kind of compromise, unions have to push back at all times, even on issues we find questionable, or else you get, well …

    … things like the “40-hour” week. How many of us work only 40 hours in a week? (Confession: I do, but only because I’m on assignment at another company, and thus my time is billable, so to the company where I’m working, I’m effectively hourly. Is it a coincidence that so many of us are in “exempt” jobs? I think not.) How many people actually have evenings and weekends free? How many can take actual vacations? Why is our free time constantly being eroded? Because management can do that, and because there’s no way for those of us in non-union careers or companies to push back.

    And yet people just don’t make that connection. I guess it’s true at every level: there will always be people willing to accept a simple “explanation” for something, whether or not it’s accurate. Oh, “right-to-work” means more jobs? OK, i support it. (Never mind that even if it did, they likely would be lower-paying jobs.)

    I did contact my state senator and representative. It went as well as it did at the national level for SOPA/PIPA. Of course, my US rep is retiring (WOOT!), so who knows? Maybe we’ll get new blood at the state level, and in 2013, we can start to reverse some of this stuff.

    • taylor16

       /  February 3, 2012

      “Oh, “right-to-work” means more jobs? OK, i support it. (Never mind that even if it did, they likely would be lower-paying jobs.)”

      Oh, so you were at my work today, overhearing my conversation with some coworkers?????

      Sigh. Indiana.

      Great comment. I’m too tired of all of this political crap and people’s ignorance to write more.

  2. dmf

     /  February 3, 2012

    for fridays and the ever slimmer hope of gainful employment:
    Hard Times
    By Michael Ryan
    The lousy job my father lands
    I’m tickled pink to celebrate.
    My mother’s rosary-pinching hands
    stack pigs in blankets on a plate.

    Teeny uncircumcised Buddha penises
    (cocktail hot dogs in strips of dough):
    I gobble these puffed-up weenie geniuses
    as if they’d tell me what I need to know

    to get the fuck out of here.
    They don’t only stink of fear.
    They’re doom and shame and dumb pig fate.
    I tell my mom I think they’re great.

    Dad chews his slowly with a pint of gin,
    and says he eats a whole shit deal
    because of us. My mom’s in tears again.
    I don’t know who to hate or how to feel.

  3. scone

     /  February 3, 2012

    Thanks for this, Emily!