In 1958, Senate Minority Leader William Knowland, his eye on the 1960 GOP nomination coveted by fellow Californian Richard Nixon, went home and declared for governor.
Knowland's plan: Ride to victory on the back of Proposition 18, the initiative to make right-to-work the law in the Golden Land. Prop. 18 was rejected 2 to 1. Knowland's career was over, and the Republicans were decimated nationally for backing right-to-work.
Badly burned, the party for years ran away from the issue.
This history makes what happened in Michigan, cradle of the United Auto Workers, astonishing. A GOP legislature passed and Gov. Rick Snyder signed a right-to-work law as libertarian as any in Red State America.
The closed shop, where a worker must belong to the union before being hired, is dead. The union shop, where an individual must join the union once hired, is dead. The agency shop, where a worker cannot be made to join a union but can be required to pay dues if the union is the agent negotiating the contract for all workers, is dead.
Michigan just legislated the open shop.
And behind the blue-collar bellicosity in Lansing is this new reality. Non-union workers can now "free ride" on union contracts. This is close to a non-survivable wound for labor.
Workers who do not belong to unions will cease paying dues, and union members will begin quietly to quit and pocket their dues money.
Why pay dues if you don't have to? Why contribute a dime to a union PAC if you don't have to, or don't like labor's candidates?
Michigan workers are not going to suffer. They have simply been given the freedom to join or not join a union, to pay or not pay dues. And while wages in right-to-work states such as Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Florida are slightly below those of other states, employment in right-to-work states is higher.
For these are the states where domestic and foreign investors look to site new plants. The BMW assembly plant is in Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., the Mercedes plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the Volkswagen and Nissan plants in Tennessee. As Gov. Rick Perry boasts, Texas has been the biggest job creator in the Obama recession.
But union power is going to be circumscribed as non-union workers elect to free-ride and union members start resigning. And just as Michigan saw Indiana creating jobs after passing right-to-work, other states may observe Michigan and go forth and do likewise.