Labor mobilizes to stop Michigan ‘right-to-work’ law
"A declaration of war on the entire U.S. working class and labor unions"
By Abayomi Azikiwe
December 11, 2012
Lansing, Mich., Dec. 11 — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
wasted no time signing anti-labor, so-called “right-to-work” laws
passed today, disregarding the daylong protest of more than 12,000 workers and
community constituents. “The workers united will never be defeated”
echoed in the Capitol rotunda, while outside mounted Michigan State Police
pepper-sprayed laborers, many of them unemployed, and other workers to disperse
them. The rushed lame-duck enactment sought to make it a fait
accompli, but instead it is a declaration of war on the entire U.S.
working class and labor unions. A banner reading “General Strike to beat
back ‘right-to-work’ ’’ attracted much interest, as did
thousands of leaflets headlined: “Beat back ‘right-to-work’
Yes, WE CAN!” The Rev. Jesse Jackson called for a one-day work stoppage
and march on Washington, D.C.
Dec. 10 — A right-wing Republican-dominated
legislature and multimillionaire governor are rapidly pushing a series of
draconian bills, the most egregious being the plan to turn Michigan into a
so-called “right-to-work” state.
Gov. Rick Snyder, who is hated by many workers and oppressed communities
around Michigan, had previously stated that he was opposed to right-to-work
legislation due to its divisive character. Obviously this has changed.
Separate bills passed both the state House and Senate on Dec. 6. Snyder says
he will sign the legislation once the two versions of the bill are
These efforts did not go unanswered. Hundreds of workers entered the
legislative chambers, chanting slogans and refusing to leave.
“Right-to-work has got to go!” rang out in the Capitol in Lansing,
State police officers closed off the chamber entrances. When more workers
and their supporters attempted to enter, police pepper-sprayed and arrested
some of them. These actions have fueled anger across the state, as thousands
mobilized for an even larger show of force on Dec. 11.
Under the right-to-work legislation, employees would not be required either
to join a union where one exists or to automatically pay fees to a collective
bargaining unit. The inability of unions to automatically gather dues from
workers’ paychecks makes it much more difficult for them to maintain
staff and fund organizing, political and social projects.
One of the largest unions in the automotive industry, United Auto Workers
Local 600 in Dearborn, Mich., conducted civil disobedience training on Dec. 8.
These sessions were also attended by the Michigan Nurses Association and drew
support from the Service Employees union; the American Federation of State,
County and Municipal Employees; and other worker organizations.
Dawn Kettinger, of the Michigan Nurses Association, said, “We’ll
be out there [Dec. 11] for all workers and all people who care about
Michigan.” Some workers will place duct tape over their mouths as a
symbol of the legislation’s impact. “That’s what the
right-to-work bills will do if passed — they will silence workers,”
Kettinger said. (Detroit News, Dec. 9)
Leading up to the Dec. 11 protest at the Capitol, other demonstrations were
held in various parts of the state. On Dec. 9, SEIU led actions outside Oakland
Mall, an upscale shopping area just north of Detroit in Troy, Mich.
Ilana Alazzeh, a member of a statewide coalition called We Are Michigan,
said, “Our politicians are being influenced by corporate lobbyists and
are weakening our families and suppressing our voices by pitting us against
each other.” The group sang parodies of holiday songs. (Detroit News,
The real impact of ‘right-to-work’
If Gov. Snyder signs this bill, Michigan will become the 24th state in the
U.S. to be governed by right-to-work laws. Although Snyder has repeatedly told
the corporate media that the legislation will create jobs in one of the states
most impacted by the economic crisis, the facts say otherwise.
In general workers in right-to-work states have lower salaries and far fewer
benefits. Poverty rates are higher in these states, while unemployment and
underemployment remain significant. (Economic Policy Institute, Feb. 2011)
In a Feb. 6 American Prospect article, Abby Rapoport cites a study by Gordon
Lafer and Sylvia Allegretto of the Economic Policy Institute.
“There’s no evidence that right-to-work laws have any positive
impact on employment or bringing back manufacturing jobs,” writes
Rapopaort. “While 23 states have right-to-work legislation, Lafer says
that to adequately judge the law’s impact in today’s economy, you
have to look at states that passed the law after the United States embraced the
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and free trade in general.”
Only two states, Oklahoma and Indiana, have passed right-to-work legislation
Rapoport continues, “Rather than increasing job opportunities, the
state saw companies relocate out of Oklahoma. In high-tech industries and those
service industries ‘dependent on consumer spending in the local
economy’ the laws appear to have actually damaged growth. At the end of
the decade, 50,000 fewer Oklahoma residents had jobs in manufacturing. Perhaps
most damning, Lafer and Allegretto could find no evidence that the legislation
had a positive impact on employment rates.”
Part of larger economic package
The attempt to impose right-to-work legislation in Michigan is part and
parcel of a broader strategy aimed at busting unions and reducing salaries and
employee benefits. On a national level, negotiations surrounding the so-called
“fiscal cliff” are actually designed to slash entitlement programs
and to further reduce federal funding for public sector projects.
During this lame-duck session in Michigan, other bills on the table include
efforts to further break up public school districts around the state and
increase the number of charter schools through an Educational Achievement
Under the guise that it will boost investment and create jobs, another bill
under consideration would eliminate property taxes that businesses pay. These
revenues are needed by local communities to maintain basic public services
including transportation, lighting and education.
An emergency manager law is set for an overhaul after Public Act 4,
popularly known as the “dictator law,” was voted down in the Nov. 6
elections. This law strips all authority from local governments and school
districts in order to accelerate the payment of debt service to financial
institutions. The law, now being carried out under the resurrected Public Act
72, is largely implemented in majority African-American municipalities.
These attacks on the working class and the nationally oppressed are taking
place throughout the country and indeed around the globe. The world capitalist
crisis is driving the ruling classes to make even greater cuts in the real
wages and social benefits of the workers in their futile attempts to maintain a
dying system of exploitation and repression.