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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 reconciled.

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, Mich.

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, Dec. 10)

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 since 2001.

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 Authority.

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.

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UPDATED Dec 13, 2012 8:39 AM
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