One might think, then, that the American Midwest is hopelessly lost to the forces of big government. Yet within many of these states, something else is happening: conservatives are enacting some of the boldest reforms in the country, to broad public approval. …

Perhaps the most surprising recent labor battle has been in Illinois, where Chicago’s Democratic mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has challenged public-union benefits and work hours. In September, Emanuel refused to cave in to the demands of 26,000 striking Chicago teachers. The teachers wanted pay increases of 30 percent to reflect a longer work day, and they objected to a proposed teacher-evaluation system. For almost two weeks, 350,000 Chicago schoolchildren sat home, while their teachers marched in picket lines. But Emanuel stood firm, and the teachers returned to work. (Emanuel has also challenged the city’s operating-engineers’ union on overtime policy and has proposed privatizing Chicago’s recycling system.) …

The real surprise is where these changes are taking place. Michigan is the birthplace of the United Auto Workers; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) originated in Madison, Wisconsin; the Teamsters National Union formed in Chicago in 1901.