Showdown in Michigan: Labor Fights Back Against Anti-Worker Laws

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by
Common Dreams

Showdown in Michigan: Labor Fights Back Against Anti-Worker Laws

Obama: Right-to-Work 'Gives You the Right to Work for Less Money'

by
Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Nurses protested at the Michigan Capitol Monday: 'This legislation will only gifve corporations more power to silence workers.' (Photo: Greg Deruiter / Lansing State Journal)

As the city of Lansing, Mich. braces for thousands of workers and union supporters to descend on the capital in protest of the controversial right-to-work legislation, President Obama and congressional Democrats and met with Governor Rick Snyder urging him to "step back from the brink."

After meeting with the Governor, President Obama made a speech at the Daimler Diesel Plant in Redford, Mich. during which he railed against right-to-work laws saying they "give you the right to work for less money."

"What we shouldn’t be doing is try to take away your rights to bargain for better wages or working conditions," he said Monday, arguing for the need for high-skilled, well-payed workers. "We don't want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top."

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In Lansing, large numbers of state police swarmed the Capitol building Monday as members of the Michigan Nurses Association kicked off the protest demonstrating on the building's steps with duct tape over their mouths.

“This politically motivated legislation will only give corporations and CEOs more power to silence workers, including nurses,” spokeswoman Dawn Kettinger said in a news release (pdf).

In anticipation of much larger protests planned for Tuesday, when thousands of union activists are expected to converge at the Capitol building, the city of Lansing has announced street closures around the city beginning Monday.

Also, the Detroit Free Press is already reporting large numbers of out-of-state plates lining the parking lot of the Michigan AFL-CIO in Lansing.

In Detroit on Monday, congressional Democrats spoke with Gov. Rick Snyder in an effort to persuade him that proceeding with the anti-union initiative will badly damage the state.

After the talks concluded, US Rep. Sander Levin reportedly told Governor Snyder, in no uncertain terms, that moving forward would guarantee “endless controversy and strife.”

Another Congressional Democrat added that “this will be a hugely contentious issue for many years unless the Governor steps back from the brink.”  

Greg Sargent, of the Washington Post, writes:

Opponents of the initiative argue that Republicans are breaking with the state’s long-held bipartisan consensus holding that unions play a key role in providing a path to the middle class. They say Republicans are siding with ideologically-motivated national anti-union forces and against the interests of Michigan, that their real goal is to cripple a major pillar of Democratic strength in the industrial Midwest, and that their move is a break with bipartisan tradition in a state that gave birth to the United Auto Workers.

Sargent adds that this legislation "could be a truly debilitating blow to organized labor." As Slate writer Matthew Yglesias wrote recently:

In political terms this really does seem like the tipping point. For a long time the United States has existed as a “house divided” in this regard. Democrats in states like Virginia and Nevada didn’t seriously try to repeal right-to-work laws, while Republicans in the northeast and midwest didn’t try to implement them. But if right-to-work can pass in Michigan, then why shouldn’t Republicans press for it in Wisconsin or Ohio or Pennsylvania?

Over the weekend, hundreds of workers gathered at UAW Local 600 in Dearborn for a workshop in peaceful civil disobedience, a tactic they plan to use in their battle against the anti-worker legislation.

According to The Nation's Allison Kilkenny, "The union hall reportedly couldn’t hold all the nurses, autoworkers, Teamsters, teachers, members of SEIU, AFSCME, UFCW, ISO and other unions who attended the meeting." 

On Thursday, amidst a flurry of protests at the Capitol, three right-to-work bills received partial approval, with one passing the House and two passing the Senate. The Legislature could send the right-to-work package to Snyder as early as Tuesday.

The anti-worker legislation makes it illegal to require financial support of a union as a condition of employment; if passed, Michigan will be the twenty-fourth state to embrace such laws.

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