Last week Wisconsin became the 25th right-to-work state. Under the bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, workers cannot be forced to join a union or pay dues as a condition of keeping their jobs.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Great Society, the wave of liberal legislation enacted by the 89th Congress under the legendary browbeating of PresidentLyndon B. Johnson. There is no small irony here, because organized labor, the most powerful interest group in the mid-20th century Democratic Party—was the wallflower at the Great Society party. Unions hoped to make it impossible for states to adopt right-to-work laws yet failed. Unions were simply left behind amid other liberal priorities, and their failure helped put unions on the defensive—where they still are, at least in the private economy…
Private unions were further weakened by post-Great Society liberalism. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was interpreted in a way that undermined union seniority rights that acted in a discriminatory manner. Environmental and safety legislation pounded American manufacturers and reduced employment. The Immigration Act of 1965 began a wave of immigration that made the American labor market more competitive. The most powerful growth in organized labor was in the public sector, where unionization was legalized in the 1960s. The AFL and CIO became overshadowed by a host of new liberal interest groups.
And that is how what in 1965 would have been considered unimaginable—that Michigan and Wisconsin could be open-shop states—came about.