Lansing, Mich., Dec. 11 — As mounted State Police pepper-sprayed workers protesting outside, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wasted no time today signing into law two bills that unions call “right to work for less” laws.
In a state that has historically been a bastion of organized labor, the lame-duck legislation was a declaration of war by the multimillionaire governor and a right-wing Republican legislature not only against this state’s unions but against the entire U.S. working class.
The bills were passed despite a day-long protest of more than 17,000 workers and community constituents. “The workers united will never be defeated” echoed in the Capitol Rotunda even as police dispersed protesting laborers, many of them unemployed, and other workers. 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.
Snyder is hated by many workers and oppressed communities around Michigan. On Dec. 6, when the legislature first voted, hundreds of workers entered their chambers chanting “Right-to-work has got to go!” and refused to leave.
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. The police actions fueled anger across the state, so that thousands mobilized for the even larger show of force today.
Under the “right-to-work” legislation, employees would no longer be required to join a union where one exists or to automatically pay fees to a collective bargaining unit. The inability of unions to gather dues or service fees from all workers paychecks makes it much more difficult for them to fight for rights, benefits and social projects that all workers in the shop — paying or not — will have.
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’
With Gov. Snyder signing the bills, Michigan became 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, February 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 Rapoport. “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 social programs and to further reduce federal funding for public sector projects.
During the lame-duck session in Michigan, other bills on the table included women’s health care restrictions, efforts and 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 would strip 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.
Cheryl LaBash contributed to this article.