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Flashback: Right to Work (1957)
Updated On: Feb 23, 2012

FLASHBACK: Indiana’s Last ‘Right-To-Work’ Law Failed So Badly It Was Repealed Eight Years Later

Workers protest outside Indiana's capitol today

Indiana Republicans passed their anti-union “right-to-work” bill this morning, and Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signed the bill this afternoon, officially making his state the 23rd to adopt such a law. Despite the bill’s widespread opposition from Democrats and labor groups, Republicans claim they have broad support across the Hoosier State and that the new law w ill increase the state’s attractiveness to businesses.

If the GOP had studied the state’s history, however, it might feel differently. Indiana Republicans passed a similar right-to-work law in 1957 over the objections of Democrats, labor leaders, and workers, and the lawproved so unpopular that it lasted only eight years, as the Evansville Courier Press noted in November:

However, the new law was so unpopular that many Republicans were turned out at the polls in 1958By the 1960s, Democrats controlled both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s office. And in 1965, they repealed the right-to-work law.

The events surrounding Indiana’s previous attempt at right-to-work bear an eerie resemblance to Indiana’s current efforts. Time Magazine, in its March 11, 1957 issue, reported that “some 7,500 wrought-up Indianans marched into the Statehouse in Indianapolis last week to protest against a ‘right-to-work’ bill,” which then-Gov. Harold W. Hanley (R) allowed to become law even though he “disliked the bill himself.” Last week, more than 10,000 workers marched through Indianapolis, and thousands have rallied at the state capitol this week. Current Indiana Gov. Daniels will sign the law despite previously saying that he though such a law would spark a “civil war” in the state.

And just like Indiana Republicans were hammered at the polls in 1958, Republicans in other states have faced public rebuke for attacking unions. Wisconsin’s anti-union legislation passed in 2011 led to recall elections for six Republican state senators (two lost), and Gov. Scott Walker (R). And while Indiana’s right-to-work bill lasted eight years, anti-union legislation signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) was defeated at the polls by Ohioans less than a year after it became law.

Indiana Democrats made a similar effort to put right-to-work up to a referendum, a decision that, according to the Teamsters union, was supported by 71 percentof state voters. But Republicans, perhaps realizing that such a plan might lead to an ugly repeat of history, blocked those attempts. With studies showing that right-to-work is bad for workers and won’t actually help Indiana, however, Hoosiers may be yearning for a repeat of 1965 sooner rather than later.

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