Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, outside the American Axle plant gate during the UAW strike. This photo was taken on Sunday, March 16, 2008. (Photo: Alan Pollock)., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Labor Mobilizes Against Right-to-Work in Birthplace of Industrial Unionism
Thousands protest right-wing attacks during lame duck session
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
A right-wing Republican-dominated legislature and multi-millionaire governor are rapidly pushing through a series of draconian bills, the most egregious of which is turning Michigan into a 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 with the passage of separate bills in both the house and senate on December 6 at the State Capitol in Lansing. Snyder says he will sign the legislation once the two versions of the bill from the house and senate are reconciled.
These efforts did not go unanswered with hundreds of workers entering the legislative chambers chanting slogans and refusing to leave. “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Right to Work Has Got to Go!” rang out in the capitol building.
State police officers closed off the entrances to the chambers and when more workers and their supporters attempted to enter, some were pepper sprayed and arrested. These actions by the legislature and the police have fueled anger across the state as thousands mobilized for an even larger show of force on December 11.
Right-to-work legislation in Michigan would prohibit the requirement of employees to either join a union where one exist or to automatically pay fees to a collective bargaining unit on a particular job. With the inability of unions to get dues check-offs directly from their paychecks it becomes much more difficult to maintain staff and to fund other political and social projects.
One of the largest unions in the automotive industry, the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 600 in Dearborn, conducted training in civil disobedience on December 8. These sessions were also attended by the Michigan Nurses Association and have drawn the support of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and other worker organizations.
Dawn Kettinger of the Michigan Nurses Association said that “We’ll be out there for all workers and all people who care about Michigan.” Some workers will place duct tape over their mouths as a symbol of what impact the legislation have according to Kettinger. (Detroit News, December 9)
“That’s what the right-to-work bills will do if passed—they will silence workers,” Kettinger said.
Leading up to the December 11 protest at the Capitol, other demonstrations were held in various parts of the state. SEIU led actions outside Oakland Mall in Troy on December 9.
Ilana Alazzeh, a member of a statewide coalition called We Are Michigan, said that “Our politicians are being influenced by corporate lobbyists and are weakening our families and suppressing our voices by pitting us against each other,” as the group sang parodies of holiday songs outside the upscale shopping area just north of Detroit. (Detroit News, December 10)
The Real Impact of Right-to-Work
If this bill is passed by the Michigan legislature and signed by the governor, the state will become the 24th in the United States to be governed by such laws. Although Snyder has repeatedly told the corporate media that the adoption of this legislation will create jobs in a state that has been one of the worst impacted by the economic crisis, the facts say otherwise.
In general the right-to-work states have lower salaries and far fewer benefits for their workers. Also poverty rates are higher in these states while unemployment and underemployment remain significant. (Economic Policy Institute study, Feb., 2011)
Abby Rapoport wrote in American Prospect earlier this year about a study done by Gordon Lafer of the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center which indicated “there’s no evidence that right-to-work laws have any positive impact on employment or bringing back manufacturing jobs. 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.”(Feb. 6)
Only two states have passed right-to-work legislation since 2001 and those are Oklahoma and Indiana. Prior to 2001, the most recent state to enact such laws was Idaho in 1985.
With specific reference to Oklahoma, Rapoport notes that “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.”
This same writer goes on to point out that “At the end of the decade, 50,000 few Oklahoma residents had jobs in manufacturing. Perhaps most damning, Lafer could find no evidence that the legislation had a positive impact on employment rates.”
Part of a 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, reducing salaries and employee benefits. On a national level the negotiations surrounding the so-called “fiscal cliff” are actually designed to slash entitlement programs and to bring about the further reduction of federal funding for public sector projects.
In Michigan other bills that are on the table during the lame-duck session include efforts to further break-up public school districts around the state and increase the number of charter schools through an Educational Achievement Authority. Another bill is in committee to eliminate personal property taxes that businesses pay under the guise that it will boost investment and create jobs, despite the fact these revenues are needed by local communities to maintain basic public services including transportation, lighting and education.
The emergency manager law is set for an overhaul after Public Act 4, popularly known as the “dictator law”, was voted down in the November 6 elections. This law provides for the stripping of all authority from local governments and school districts in order to accelerate the payment of debt-service to the financial institutions. This 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.