Unions vow to fight on
IN WHAT IS broadly seen as a defining moment in Organized Labor’s struggle against anti-union forces, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed two right-to-work bills into law Dec. 11, making Michigan the 24th state to enact RTW legislation.
Right-to-work is a thinly-veiled attempt by labor’s enemies to weaken unions. It removes the legal requirement that workers who accept a job in a unionized enterprise must join the union and pay dues or fees. In RTW states, the legal requirement is removed, and workers can choose not to join the union or pay dues. The situation is blatantly unfair, divisive, and harmful to union solidarity, because the union is still required to represent non-paying workers who benefit from collective bargaining and other services funded by dues-paying union members.
Michigan’s decent into RTW status played out across national media in similar fashion to recent attacks by Republican politicians in Wisconsin and Indiana. Michigan’s Republican-led House and Senate rushed through two RTW bills, one aimed at public employees, the other at private workers. Gov. Snyder, also a Republican, quickly signed both.
Union members protesting RTW rallied for several weeks at the capital city of Lansing. On the day the governor signed RTW into law, an estimated 12,000 unionists thronged the capitol in protest. Emotions ran high, and the drama erupted into a melee as pro-RTW forces stationed in two large tents traded taunts with union members. Some suggested that the RTW supporters were backed by the billionaire Koch brothers and Amway heir (and Michigan resident) Dick DeVos. The Koch brothers have financed much of the recent anti-union efforts across the country, according to reports.
“What we saw in Lansing is the same script being used by an organized anti-union group in other states,” said Cecile Conroy, Boilermakers Legislative Director. “Part of their effort is to bait union protestors into physical confrontations so the right-wing media can stereotype them as ‘union thugs,’ which erodes public support for organized labor.
“Fox News correspondent Steven Crowder was right in the middle of this confrontation — and got slugged,” Conroy said. “He of course made sure to get it on film. Was that a set-up? I think so.”
Local 169 (Detroit) had a substantial presence in Lansing over the course of the developments, said lodge BM-ST Bob Hutsell.
“The week before the governor signed the bill, protesters were peaceful and respectful in and around the capitol,” he noted, “but things began to heat up when police began locking us out of the building.”
He said that during the main protest on Dec. 11 right-to-work supporters began antagonizing union members.
“When you have thousands of union workers who are there because they are concerned about working families and livelihoods, they don’t appreciate groups coming in that are obviously funded by billionaires and right-wing extremists.”
Local 85 (Toledo, Ohio) BM-ST Fred Keith also participated in the Lansing rallies. He told Voice of America journalist Brian Padden that right-to-work will cause a downward spiral for the pay rates in the area as well as working conditions. That, Keith said, “is going to affect everybody.”
Unions are considering legal appeals and looking down the road at state elections. Hutsell noted that Republicans who backed RTW will feel the wrath of union voters.
“This is not over,” he said. “We don’t stop fighting until the bell rings — and I ain’t heard no bell.”