As election results rolled in the night of November 8, it became clearer and clearer that the Democratic “firewall” in the Midwest might not hold. While the Democratic presidential nominee had consistently won the popular votes in Wisconsin and Michigan since 1988 and 1992, respectively, Republican nominee Donald Trump would finish the night by narrowly winning both states. There are several reasons for these Democratic losses, but one major contributor is clear: successful Republican efforts to damage unions.
In just four years, from 2011 to 2015, Wisconsin union membership dropped from 13.5 percent of workers to just over 8 percent. Over the same period, Michigan saw its percentage of workers in unions drop from 17.6 percent to about 15 percent. This was no accident. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker bragged in 2015 that he “took on the unions and won.” He is right: Walker’s administration passed Act 10 in 2011 to eliminate substantive collective bargaining rights from most public employees. And Walker continued his attack in 2015, signing a so-called “right-to-work” law that forces unions to provide services to non-members without payment. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a similar “right-to-work” law in 2012 to weaken his own state’s unions.
These attacks on unions do not just lower workers’ wages and help business interests. They also change the way the political process works, especially for people with lower incomes and less education.This article was originally published in Real Clear Policy.