Repeal Anti-Worker “Right-To-Work” Law in Michigan Now! Fight Back Against Union Busting and Concessions!
By Editors of The Organizer Newspaper
On Tuesday, December 11, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a Right-To-Work law that goes into effect in April of next year. The law was rammed through the lame-duck Michigan legislature without public hearings. During the legislative session, 10,000 union members and supporters staged an angry protest outside, while another 2,500 protesters demonstrated inside the Capitol. Police limited the number of protesters allowed inside on the pretext of the age and supposed lack of structural integrity of the building. Outside, protesters clashed with cops and, at one point, ripped apart the tent of the pro-Right-To-Work Americans for Prosperity. Police used gas and batons on union supporters.
The militant spirit of the protest points to the potential that exists to stop this sort of law in its tracks. The unions could have mobilized their members to shut down the Capitol, but the United Auto Workers union, for example, chose to meet behind closed doors with the governor and legislative Democrats on the day the law passed. Labor officials are promising to reverse the law in two years by electing labor-friendly candidates. In contrast, the fighting spirit of rank-and-file teachers was on display. Three school districts in Michigan had to shut down because of a lack of staff due to teachers attending the protest — creating, in effect, a general strike situation.
The militant tactics of teachers, construction workers and other union members points the way forward. The mass movement against Scott Walkers’ union-busting law in Wisconsin lost its energy and momentum when the Democrats and the labor misleadership derailed the movement into supporting Democratic Party politicians, many of whom had already launched attacks on public employees. An alternative based on mass action and working class independent political campaigns would have been much more effective.
The current drive to pass Right-To-Work legislation is calculated to further weaken the economic and political clout of unions. The campaign to pass anti-worker legislation is funded by the ultra-right Koch brothers and other anti-labor reactionaries. Campaigns are underway to pass similar laws in Ohio, Maine, Minnesota and Oregon — and Right-To-Work took effect in Indiana earlier this year. The Michigan law was written by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. It’s no coincidence that the current campaigns to undermine the unions are taking place in states where union get-out-the-vote efforts helped Obama get re-elected.
What Right-To-Work For Less Means
The Right-To-Work law outlaws the inclusion of “union security” or “agency shop” clauses in contracts, which require the payment of dues money by workers who benefit from the union contract without belonging to the union. The end result is the weakening of the union infrastructure and its ability to engage in organizing and political action. Another side effect is the weakening of union health and safety programs, which leads to an increase in injuries and fatalities on the job.
Right-To-Work is an attack on the living standards of all workers — union and nonunion — and must be fought by any means necessary. In several economic indicators, Right-To-Work states perform poorly compared with more union-friendly states. Poverty rates and the percentage of people without health insurance are higher in Right-To-Work states. Life expectancy in these states is about a year less than in non-Right-To-Work states, and Right-To-Work states have higher infant mortality rates than other states.
The average worker in a RTW state makes about $1,500 per year less than workers in non-RTW states. The median family income is $6,437 lower in RTW states. Right-To-Work states have a higher percentage of low-wage jobs than non-RTW states.
Mass Struggle Necessary
Defeating the union-busting offensive will require a mass struggle and the mobilization of all union members and their allies in defense of our standards of living. The failure of the labor bureaucracy to break with the Democrats only weakens our efforts to stop concessions and cuts. The need for a fightback is felt at all levels of the labor movement, and this opens an opportunity to wage a united-front fight against cuts and concessions and calling for the repeal of Taft-Hartley.
For too long the labor bureaucracy has made peace with the Taft-Hartley Act. Unions have to realize that only by breaking the unjust restrictions of Taft-Hartley, by putting everything on the line to protest this anti-labor law and building a national movement, will it be possible to overturn Taft-Hartley. This will require engaging in occupations of the seats of power in various states, as well as at the nation’s capital. It will require organizing transportation strikes, factory and office occupations, and mass pickets to shut down the bosses’ economy. It will require making it impossible for the government to implement Right-to-Work. It is time to start playing hard-ball.
The labor movement, at all levels, should immediately call, in conjunction with its community allies, for the formation of community-labor coalitions to build mass actions against cuts and concessions. Such a movement could have mobilized tens of thousands in Michigan and helped to put the brakes on the Right-To-Work law.
To accomplish this, the unions and their allies will have to declare their independence from the Democratic Party and build a working-class party that fights in the interests of all workers and oppressed people. Wall Street has two parties! We need one of our own!
The building of rank-and-file organizations, and a class struggle left wing in the unions can help reverse the decades of concessionary bargaining that has gutted our unions and led to demoralization and demobilization of the working class.
Socialist Organizer, the U.S. section of the Fourth International, calls for a mass struggle against budget cuts and concessions. We oppose any and all cuts to Social Security and Medicare. We oppose bailouts for the ruling rich and the banks; they created this crisis, make them pay for it!
Our forebears built the unions through unity and struggle. It is time to reclaim that militant heritage