In Michigan, the birthplace of the labor movement, this week’s abrupt passage of a “right-to-work” law incited the largest protest in Lansing’s history: at least 12,500 people, wearing red, chanting, singing, drumming, committing civil disobedience, and otherwise battling to be heard as lawmakers in a lame-duck session overhauled the state’s labor laws without public input or committee meetings. State house Democrats’ attempts to pass amendments that would, for example, put right-to-work up for a public vote or eliminate the $1 million appropriation seemingly designed so that the law withstands the threat of voter referendum, all failed. That $1 million appropriation is supposed to go toward educating workers and union about life under right-to-work, and, in the budget-strained state, it’s not clear what the source of the money will be.Barely two hours after it left the House, and just days after it got on the agenda, Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed the bill. The overhaul will affect both public and private employees (police and fire excepted).
In Michigan on Tuesday, the display of public dissent prompted authorities to close the Capitol when they said it reached its 2,000-person capacity. Several Lansing streets were shut to traffic and some police wore riot gear. Two school districts closed for the day because of teachers and other workers joining in the demonstrations. Former Democratic Rep. Mark Schauer, a member of Laborers union Local 355, was among those hit with pepper spray as he led protestors outside the Capitol. Ironically, a rallying point for protesters was the Romney building—named for George Romney, the father of Mitt and the former governor who, in 1965, helped craft the very labor laws that right-to-work undercuts. The Romney building houses Snyder’s office, and stands as a reminder of legislation that Governor Romney and bipartisan lawmakers passed that provided full collective bargaining rights to public employees and improved bargaining rights for private employees.
Now that Michigan, with its symbolic power as the home of the United Auto Workers, has become a right-to-work state, what’s next for workers concerned about fair wages and fair working conditions? What is the long view of organizers here?
See the answer, more or less, here.