As corporations have become more and more powerful in recent decades, unionization rates in the United States dropped to a 70-year low of 11.9% in 2011. Some of this decline can be attributed to the outsourcing of unionized jobs, but companies in the U.S. have also become more aggressively anti-union and have been spending a lot of time and money pushing legislation to weaken the labor movement.
An example of this type of legislation are “paycheck protection” laws, which seek to ban the use of paycheck deductions for political spending. This was the goal of Proposition 32, which aimed to weaken the labor movement by diminishing its political influence. Proposition 32 was deceptively written to appear as campaign finance reform, but would have disproportionately affected labor unions, in effect strengthening the power of corporations and conservatives.
Not only are “paycheck protection” laws a threat to unions, but they are also a threat to the Democratic Party, because labor unions are the largest contributors to democratic candidates and effective in mobilizing democratic voters. California voters rejected similar ballot initiatives in 1998 and 2005, and in November 56.3% voted against Prop 32.
Despite a history of defeat, conservative anti-labor forces spent millions trying to pass Prop 32. Billionaire Charles Munger spent at least $29 million of his personal fortune, and a group with ties to the Koch brothers contributed $4 million to the campaign.
Even though Prop 32 didn’t pass, were they at least successful in diverting labor’s attention and money from organizing to defeating it? Actually, the “Prop 32 effect” mobilized democratic voters not only to reject Prop 32 but to pass Prop 30 and elect a democratic supermajority in the both houses of the state legislature.