I was very skeptical that the Indiana House Democrats could hold up on a boycott to deny quorum to Republicans, and indeed, they couldn’t. They returned to work late today and allowed the right-to-work legislation to pass.

Indiana’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives cleared the way Wednesday to become the first right-to-work state in a traditionally union-heavy Rust Belt increasingly targeted by non-union foes.

The House voted 54-44 to make Indiana the nation’s 23rd right-to-work state after Democrats ended a periodic boycott which had stalled the measure for weeks. The measure is expected to face little opposition in Indiana’s Republican-controlled Senate and could reach Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’ desk shortly before the Feb. 5 Super Bowl in Indianapolis.

“This announces especially in the Rust Belt, that we are open for business here,” Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said of the right-to-work proposal that would ban unions from collecting mandatory representation fees from workers.

Democrats don’t have enough members in the Senate to block quorum, so this is basically a done deal. The House bill included an exemption for building and construction trades, which some state Senators viewed as unnecessary, but I don’t think that will derail the bill. So Indiana will become the 23rd right-to-work state in America, the first in 10 years to make the shift and the first ever in the industrial Midwest. And wages will fall as a result, if history is any guide. And the power of unions will dissipate, that’s for certain.

House Democrats could have seen their entire annual salary go to fines imposed by Republicans in a matter of weeks if they held out. A judge temporarily blocked the collection of those fines, but that could break either way. This literally would mean mortgaged homes for some House Dems; they only get $22,600 a year for their legislative duties. So a boycott wasn’t all that plausible to begin with, and they never quite had a united front, always popping in for a day and going back out, and so on. In the end, they could not hold it together, despite an intermittently valiant fight.

The bigger question is whether Indianans, who broadly opposed the right-to-work rules, will make Republicans pay at the polls for this attack on workers.