An anti-union sneak attack

Michael Shallal and Christian Ringdal report on a union-busting drive in Michigan.

Protesters fill the Michigan Capitol building to protest "right-to-work" legislationProtesters fill the Michigan Capitol building to protest "right-to-work" legislation

REPUBLICANS IN Michigan are trying to push through legislation to turn one of the historic strongholds of the labor movement into a "right-to-work" state.

Union members and their supporters have until Tuesday to mobilize a response that can stop the two houses of the legislature from a final vote and Gov. Rick Snyder from signing the legislation. The call of organizers is: "Turn Lansing into Madison on Tuesday."

Thousands of activists and union members gathered in the capital on Thursday to protest as the anti-union "right-to-work" proposal when it was considered and rammed through in both the Senate and House on the same day that it was introduced.

Similar legislation was passed and signed into law in Indiana, the first time such a measure has made inroads in the Midwest. Now, Republican Snyder is making a move in Michigan--and putting forward a bill during a lame-duck legislature in the hopes of rushing it through before the end of the year.

Outside and inside the Capitol building, chants of "No justice, no peace!" and "We are the 99 percent!" rang out. The protesters were locked out of the Capitol for hours at one point. Claiming the "structural integrity" of the building was not safe with so many people inside, Michigan state troopers kept the crowd outside, prompting chants of "Whose house? Our house?" and "Let Us In!"

Inside, representatives and senators were deciding the future of unionism in Michigan. Only when a court injunction was served on Snyder that ruled the lockout unconstitutional were demonstrators let back into the building.

The protests on December 6 started with eight demonstrators being arrested around 1 p.m. when they tried to enter the Senate chambers. State troopers maced others.

According to the Detroit News, procedural rules require a five day layover for a piece of legislation to pass from one chamber to another.

This will give unions and activists time to organize opposition. Bob King, president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), promised that the Tuesday demonstration would be "the big one." Activists and officials from the UAW, state and regional AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, the United Steel Workers, AFSCME and many other unions were present at last Thursday.

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DURING THE campaign against "right-to-work" legislation in Indiana, unions and progressive groups rightly called it "the right-to-work-for-less" bill. The legislation, allows workers to "opt out" of paying their fair share of union dues, is nothing more than legalized union-busting--a naked effort to undermine union power in the workplace and to give employers another weapon to intimidate or misinform workers against joining unions.

So it's no wonder that Rick Snyder is pushing for the law in Michigan. Since day one of his time in office, Snyder's agenda has been the same--go to war against the unions and make life harder for the working class and poor people in Michigan.

One centerpiece of Snyder's agenda was the PA-4 Emergency Manager Law, which stripped elected city councils of their power over finances if their city was deemed to be in a "financial emergency." PA-4 allowed the governor to appoint an "emergency manager" (EM) with the powers to nullify collective bargaining contracts and dictate new terms to unions.

In a victory for labor, the PA-4 law was put to a vote in a referendum on November 6, and it was struck down by a majority of voters.

But Snyder is attempting to push through new legislation to replace the emergency managers' law. The defeat of PA-4 is also another reason Republicans are now pushing so hard for "right-to-work."

Unions in Michigan spent $25 million to pass a constitutional amendment on the November ballot, which would have guaranteed collective bargaining as a right, effectively barring laws like "right-to-work." However, this proposal was voted down almost 2-to-1 after an aggressive corporate ad campaign. This gave Snyder an additional opening for pushing "right-to-work" legislation.

Union-busting isn't the only thing on Republicans' minds during this lame-duck session. Senators also passed a bill on Thursday that would allow employers, doctors, nurses and pharmacists to conscientiously object to providing or paying for birth control and abortion. Several anti-women bills have been packaged together with this measures.

Two other bills, HB 5923 and SB 1358, would establish a statewide school district, with a board consisting of members appointed by the governor, not elected by voters. Charterization is a big goal here--the statewide board would be in a position to take even more resources and students away from public schools and give them to charter schools.

If "right-to-work" succeeds in Michigan, would be a huge blow to the working class and union in the Midwest and around the country. But labor and its allies can defeat Snyder.

Michigan is the birthplace of the UAW. Last spring, Bob King used the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the sit-down strikes in Flint to call for "union members to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience along the lines of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements" to protest the 1 percent.

King needs to put his money where his mouth is right now. Everyone who cares about unions and workers' rights needs to support the struggle against "right-to-work." Any activist who can should get to the Michigan capital on Tuesday and turn Lansing into Madison.