Since the passage of “right-to-work” legislation in Michigan on Dec. 11, unions and community organizations have vowed to continue their fight against the inevitable lowering of wages and benefits. The rush to pass what unions are calling “right-to-work-for-less” and other bills is a clear manifestation of an escalating capitalist war being waged on the working class.
The draconian legislation was passed even as 17,000 union members, students and their supporters from throughout the state of Michigan were holding militant demonstrations inside and outside the state Capitol building in Lansing. Riot police forcefully removed demonstrators from the streets and cleared an entrance to the nearby George Romney Building, where Gov. Rick Snyder’s offices are located.
At least eight workers were arrested during the demonstrations and charged with felonies. Others were brutally handled and pepper-sprayed by state cops.
Snyder, a multi-millionaire Republican, who has supported some of the most extreme right-wing legislation in the state’s history, has become the focus of demonstrations throughout Michigan. On Dec. 15, he was met by protesters when he addressed the commencement ceremonies for graduates at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
A coalition of labor, faith and progressive organizations lined the roadways to the Breslin Center, where they passed out red carnations to graduates and fliers explaining the impact of right-to-work. “We will salute our graduates and remind Snyder that right-to-work jeopardizes the future of these graduates,” said a statement issued by the We Are Michigan coalition.
The statement continued, “We are standing up to protect students and families in a state where Gov. Snyder and his wealthy cronies are taxing retirees, cutting education and killing good jobs!”
Bill Reed, president of United Auto Workers Local 602 based in Lansing, said “We are here to show our appreciation for the MSU students. The legislation harms these students’ future.”
Many unions have called for an electoral campaign to vote out the right-wing Republicans in 2014. However, with the pace of the attacks against organized labor, women, peoples of color, youth and workers in general, many cannot afford to wait another two years for the uncertain outcome of midterm elections.
Committee to Beat Back Right-to-Work
The Committee to Beat Back Right-to-Work has launched a public campaign within the trade union movement to get the various locals to discuss and pass resolutions calling for a general strike. The provisions for such an action exist within trade union structures, growing out of the sitdown strikes and other mass mobilizations of the 1930s and early 1940s.
Article 50, Sec. 8 of the UAW constitution states, “In case of great emergency, when the existence of the International Union is involved, together with the economic and social standing of our membership, the International President and International Executive Board shall have the authority to declare a general strike within the industry by a 2/3 vote of the International Executive Board, whenever in their good judgment it shall be deemed proper for the purpose of preserving and perpetuating the rights and living standards of the general membership … provided, under no circumstances shall it call such a strike until approved by a referendum vote of the membership.”
The Committee to Beat Back Right-to-Work set up a Facebook page and passed out 2,000 leaflets during the demonstrations in Lansing on Dec. 11, which were well received by the workers.
Further attacks on Detroit
On the same day that Snyder and the right wing were passing right-to-work legislation in Lansing, in Detroit a series of repressive measures were forced through under political duress from state officials and banks. A $300,000 legal contract with Miller, Canfield law offices, a millionaire firm, was passed 5-4 by the City Council. This company has been involved in advising Mayor Dave Bing on the enforcement of the Financial Stability Agreement, a union-busting measure pushed by the banks.
Another measure approved selling 1,500 vacant plots of land to a businessman who will establish tree farms. These lots on the city’s east side are vacant because of the predatory lending policies of the banks, which have left hundreds of thousands without homes due to foreclosure and eviction.
Hundreds of Detroit residents have attended City Council hearings to express their opposition to these giveaway projects to wealthy corporations. However, a bloc of City Council members has consistently voted in favor of initiatives that further erode the political authority and will of the people of the city.
Bing announced recently that city workers will be hit by another round of furlough days and layoffs. Yet banks that have withheld at least $118 million in unpaid property taxes on vacant homes and buildings are not being pursued for payment.
It was discovered that the firm controlling one of the large downtown sports arenas owes over $2 million in taxes to the city. However, individual households have been receiving notices from the city’s finance division claiming they owe money on back income taxes from 2007 to 2011.
Overall assault requires strategic approach
In addition to the right-to-work law, other egregious bills were passed during the lame duck session in Michigan. These changes represent the coming nationwide onslaught against working people.
A new emergency manager law was passed, even though a similar proposed amendment to the state constitution had been rejected by the voters in November. The new legislation, called the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act, will take effect in March, raising the ominous specter of continued austerity and disempowerment of African-American-majority cities around the state.
A Downtown Development Authority bill passed that will allow the state to continue to capture taxes and give these funds directly to private corporations — a process that already exists but has recently been questioned. The city has not benefited at all from the outright theft of tax dollars; instead, high unemployment and infrastructural damage have worsened.
A personal property tax on businesses was repealed, giving the capitalists hundreds of millions while depriving local municipalities of funds needed to finance public services and projects. A regional transit authority was established. The federal government had denied funding to metropolitan Detroit unless this measure was enacted.
Women will face greater obstacles to reproductive health care. Bills were also passed that will make it far more difficult to recall public officials.
These new laws require drastic action by workers and the oppressed in Michigan. A shift in strategy toward citywide and statewide work stoppages would raise the level of consciousness and struggle within the region and nationally. n