David Hecker: Don’t fall for well-funded, divide-and-conquer tactics

March 29, 2023 4:04 am

A Capitol rally for public schools, June 18, 2019 | Derek Robertson

Throughout history and across continents, wealth and power have often been concentrated in the hands of just a few people and organizations. That’s while the rest are left to contend for scraps, and the United States is no different.

The ultra-wealthy are an extremely small part of the population, so they work to hold onto their influence and preserve the status quo by using money to create policies that work in their favor and propaganda designed to divide us. Our well-being depends on us sticking together against well-funded attempts to drive wedges between us.

Take, for example, the so-called Right to Work law Democratic lawmakers have worked to repeal in Michigan, which was created by corporate interests like the DeVos family to defund and undermine unions and hamper our ability to advocate for workers. 

To sell this regressive, anti-worker policy to the public, corporations and lawmakers used clever branding and misleading talking points to pit non-union workers against the labor movement, when in fact unions are proven to improve work conditions for members and non-members alike.

At the same time, the DeVos family and other corporate interests have continued their efforts to demonize and defund public education, in large part because an equitable public school system paves the way for all kids, no who they are or where they live, to learn, thrive and build better lives for themselves.

The tactics Republican lawmakers and their corporate backers have used to attack the labor movement and public education are strikingly similar to those used to push through anti-voter laws across the country — which isn’t surprising, because both lines of attack are perpetrated by the same bad actors. 

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As is the case with anti-union laws, the purpose of voter suppression is to diminish the people’s power to create change, with a particular focus on the most marginalized — and they’ve sold it to their base by propagating lies and myths to stoke false fears of fraud.

This pattern has repeated itself across countless issue areas — it’s why right-wing media and elected officials have worked so hard to pit low-income workers against undocumented immigrants, to distract from the exploitative corporations truly responsible for mistreating them. 

It’s why they repeatedly attack the LGBTQ+ community and use disinformation to exploit people’s fear of what they don’t know. And it’s why we’re seeing so many efforts to censor Black and indigenous history in the classroom and prevent kids from learning about how marginalized people have fought against oppression throughout history.

At a glance, these various right-wing efforts might seem fully separate from each other — but the truth is that they are all tactics employed by a predominantly straight, white and wealthy group of lawmakers, corporations, and individuals to preserve their own power. 

So, how do we fight back? With solidarity, across race, gender, income level, and ZIP code. Right-wing leaders work so hard to divide us with hate and fear because they know that when we stand and fight together, we can upend the status quo and use our votes, voices and collective power to create a more equitable, inclusive America.

AFT Michigan is an educators’ union, and we have long fought for quality public education for all students and justice for school employees, but that goal does not exist in a vacuum. We cannot truly fulfill the mission of our organization without also fighting for voting rights, racial justice, LGBTQ inclusion, and the safe, inclusive communities all Michiganders deserve.

So, as we celebrate this month’s progress on labor rights and the historic expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, I urge all working Michiganders who have spoken out and taken action on these important policies to remember that our work is just beginning. As we continue to fight for the economic justice working people deserve, we must also defend our voting rights and work toward justice and equality for all people.

As union members and leaders, we know that when working people stand together, we win, and we cannot lose sight of that message. We will not be divided and we will not be conquered.


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David Hecker
David Hecker

David Hecker was the president of AFT Michigan. Previously, he was secretary-treasurer of the state federation. A member of the AFT executive committee, Hecker was first elected as an AFT vice president in 2004.