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Cutting off their noses to spite their faces

November 16, 2011
The anti-union governor in Ohio, Republican John Kasich, began backpedaling bright and early the following morning after the Nov. 8 election threw his communist-leaning policies out the window. But in regular political fashion — he jumped right on a new parade float, claiming that "the people have spoken" and "you pay attention to what they have to say, and you think about it" — hoping to diminish any threat of losing the next election, and his job. Why doesn't someone ask him why he wants to listen to the people now, after having his ears covered on the issue for months?

In Wisconsin, another Republican anti-worker governor is in trouble on the same issue: trying to take away the voice of working people in his state. There are now efforts to gather enough support for a recall of the governor, and some believe the outcome in the Ohio election will increase the chances of success of the recall in Wisconsin. Many of these guys won't be happy until our police officers, firefighters, school teachers and both public and private workers are working for minimum wage, no benefits, no pensions — no kidding.

And now, in Indiana, it looks like we're going to be doing another battle over the "right to work" idea that the Republicans love so much. The Democrats had to leave the state to stop it in its tracks the last time, and that may be what it takes again. The "right to work" thing actually means "the right to bust every union in the state, lower wages, decrease benefits and make the rich even richer," something we all should be in favor of, right? And believe it or not, there are Indiana workers out there who have been convinced that this will somehow benefit them.

Gov. Mitch Daniels said last week that businesses won't look at Indiana because it's not a right-to-work state. But a recent poll of business site selectors ranked Indiana the sixth best state to do business in, better than 17 of the 22 right-to-work states. The right-to-work strategy isn't about attracting new business; it's about breaking unions and then eventually reducing the wages and benefits of employees working for companies already here. I believe the right question to ask now is, how many companies have left Indiana because it wasn't a right-to-work state? Do you know of any?

I attended an economic development seminar in French Lick a while back. The gathering was about the announcement of a new group that was formed to help attract new businesses to several Southern Indiana poor counties, including Orange, Perry, Crawford and others. But in a brochure that was passed out at the meeting, one of the things the group was using to attract new business was the fact that the counties involved had really low wages. Isn't that a wonderful selling point? Doesn't that look like a plan to lift these counties out of the doldrums? "Hey, guys, come on down. The fools down in the southern part of the state will work for practically nothing. And if you'll throw a few bucks to certain politicians, we can have a right-to-work state and pretty much guarantee the fools can never organize or expect you to pay living wages. Isn't this great?"

It's amazing how desperation can live right next door to prosperity. And desperate situations often result in desperate ways. If you go to the Crawford County Economic Development website, there's a few things that jump out at you. The website states that the median family income in Crawford County is less than $45,000 (it's actually about $35,675). And the number of families living in poverty in the county is more than 8 percent. And in bold letters, the website points out that "there are no unions associated with any of our businesses."

However, if you go to the Harrison County Economic Development website, it paints a completely different picture of a county just down the road. Its website embraces the unions in the county, stating that 60 percent of the manufacturing workforce in Harrison is unionized. And the website also brags that Harrison County is one of the fastest growing counties in Indiana. If unions are so bad that one county, one of the poorest in the state, brags about not having any, why haven't they held back Harrison County's success at attracting business? I guess what Harrison County needs is a little right-to-work strategy to put it in its place.

Mitch and his crew of anti-labor cut-throats work hard to convince us that we need to bust the unions and drag the union workers back to the rear like the non-union workers, instead of working hard to attract decent companies that believe in paying a fair wage, and lift those in the rear up to a level that they can feed their families and afford to buy the products other Americans are producing. And they make every effort to attract those businesses that want to take advantage of an already suffering workforce. Do these poor counties need jobs? Absolutely. Do they need more jobs that keep their residents under the poverty level? Well, you can answer that.

The economic development people are working tirelessly to bring in help to their poor counties. But the state needs to help, not leave them hanging out to dry and grasping for the only straws available to them: growing at the expense of their poor workforce.

It all makes a person wonder where we're going — and why are we in this handbasket? If the conservative politicians achieve their goals, everyone who isn't extremely rich will be extremely poor. If they throw away Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, unemployment and decent wages, like most of the Republican presidential candidates are now preaching, what will happen to those in need (after the politicians have made them needy), those working full time and still can't pay their bills, our elderly, our poor children and those who are unemployed due to no fault of their own? And I wonder if, one day, we'll see poor farms return to the poverty-ridden counties. We'll have to warehouse the poor workers somewhere.

Yes, right-to-work won't lead us to the right-to-make-a-living. And busting unions and taking away workers' voices won't help the economy, the counties or anyone but the already rich and the politicians they have bought.

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Schuler Bauer
Barbara Shaw
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