Report From Right To Work for Less Protest

RtW Poem by Miriam of M1 12-12-12

Michigan now
RTW (for less) state
Right to Work
Right to Weasel
Right to War
On the Working Class

Stand up!
Vote with your feet.

You already voted
Waited in long lines
to vote for

one or the other

spender of billions

while we children


no toilet paper

in the fire stations

or schools.

Time to strike

Time to organize

Time to go to meetings
Time to talk with your neighbor
your friend your family your peeps
Time to stand up

What do we need
And how can we
go about getting it

Time to
Vote with your feet.

12-11-12 Lansing, Michigan
Report by M1 member David

15,000 people gathered at the Lansing Capitol to protest the Right to Work for Less bill


Brief explanation of how ridiculously inaccurate it is to call this a right to work bill here

The bill is a lot more than just making Michigan the 24th right to work state, it has a number of things included that no one yet knows what there effects will be. This may have had something to do with it never making it out of committee but was added as an amendment to an appropriations bill and voted on the same day it was proposed. Since it is part of an appropriations bill, it cannot be overturned by referendum. For a full text of the bills.

This is one of several things happening in the Michigan Legislature this week. There is also a bill designed to prevent access to abortion by changing the rules about a range of things including the square footage requirements of reproductive health clinics.

The emergency manager law implemented two years ago by Rick Snyder, was partially overturned by a ballot proposal in November where people voted to strike down the law. Barely a month later, the legislature approved a new law that does the same thing as the old one, but offers “choices” on how it will be implemented. Don’t worry though since every choice is not really a choice at all.

Tuesday’s Events

Based on what had happened in the week preceding the protest, I was very worried that the mainstream unions will simply show up, yell all day and then calmly leave. Had that been the extent of their mobilization along with promising to “punish” the republicans in the 2014, then everyone, union or not, needs to make it clear that those are pitiful responses to this clear attack on working people, and that we demand more from those who say they act in our interest while giving only lip service to actually doing anything about it that matters. If the unions are going to fight, great. But we need to understand that there must also be a fight back that comes from regular people, union or not, that have ideas for ways forward beyond waiting for crumbs from politicians and union bureaucrats alike.

This flyer sums up what we should be expecting from anything calling itself a union or an organization fighting in workers’ interests. I handed out about 300 of these at the protest and had decent response.

Unions that Fight

In trying to connect the attack on workers with the attacks on
women’s reproductive rights, the backside of the flyer had this to say.

I started the day feeling pessimistic about what would happen and even though on the whole, people came, yelled and then went home, I was a lot more encouraged by the days events than I thought I’d be.

That said, let me be clear that this is an accounting of the days events and not any sort of feeling of victory or satisfaction with the business unions’ approach or their marriage to the democratic party. This is an attempt to describe what I was seeing glimpses of, piece that are present, just below the surface in spite of the unions’ backwards ways.

This bill is only possible because most of the unions have not been organizing, have been acting in the interests of the bosses as much as in the interests of workers and have wed themselves almost completely to the democratic party, who hasn’t really given them a thing in several decades. I don’t dispute any of that and have had my share of experiences with unions that make me sick to my stomach. That said, I think it is incorrect to write them off as obsolete, having run their course or irrelevant. The hundreds of thousands of people who participate in their unions, despite their problems don’t think so and I think it is a mistake to dismiss those sentiments and commitments. That was demonstrated pretty well in what I saw on Tuesday.

What I Saw

-The shear number of people who were very clearly working class and pissed off was surprising. That doesn’t mean it will translate into meaningful action but the variation of people there willing to act beyond just showing up was worth noting. There was a mood to the protest that went beyond passively pleading for things and more of a tone of, we know you are going to do this and fuck you. From the start they were setting the tone that it was not a day to push people around, be it police or the 20 or so people from Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers backed organization pushing the right to work legislation. There were two massive event tents set up by Americans for Prosperity on the lawn of the capitol, both of which were ripped down within 20 minutes. A fox news reporter attempting to provoke some union folks didn’t have to wait long before getting punched in the face. Attempts by the police to move the crowd early on, with either lines of riot police or police on horses, were simply out flanked and out numbered and they would try for a while but then retreat. I don’t want to over do this point but it wasn’t just a couple of groups going through the crowd having confrontations with police. A broad range of people, most of the time being different groupings altogether sat down en mass in the capitol mezzanine against police orders and stayed for several hours; Several attempts to break through police lines were met with pepper spray and baton jabs; 200-300 folks locked down in the Romney office building where the governors office is, 50 or so of which were drug out one at a time; while not overt street fights, there were multiple clashes with police lines with people charging their lines lines; The only exit for the governors car was blocked and was only cleared by 60-80 police marching in formation down the streets 4 lines deep. This push took place at dusk, long after the union leadership and police had told everyone to go home, and there were still several thousand people in the street.

-There was still the idle threats to “punish” the republicans in the 2014 elections. While in the week leading up to tuesday, that had been stated a lot, it was mostly being said by union staffer types who were a tiny minority on tuesday as compared to earlier in the week. So with a much more rank-n-file character to the crowd, I heard that argument much less than I thought I would.

-The police presence and attitude was way over the top with lines of riot police and openly admitting to there being under cover officers in the crowd. Its a good time to mention that the right to work for less bill applies to public and private employees in michigan EXCEPT for police and fire fighters.

Excellent photo slideshow of to demonstrate how aggressive the cops were

Several times throughout the day, the police marched through the crowd in highly militarized formations with riot cops in front and then some sort of tactical team at the rear carrying tear gas launchers and 2 ft long super sized pepper spray canisters. Intimidation or justifying the cost are the only possible reasons for sending these formations into the crowd.

While there was the occasional plea to the police to stand in solidarity with us, by and large the crowd was angry and screaming at the cops. An anti-cop sentiment was largely embraced with, “Get the Fuck out of here” and “Scab” being pretty common things to hear. A line had been drawn for many that attended, a line that placed the police firmly on the wrong side of things and as little more than thugs of the government. Considering the crowd, I was surprised to hear people berating the cops and in actions of a similar groupings of people, I was expecting a much more lenient attitude toward the police.

-Though the protest was focused on the right to work legislation, a healthy portion of the crowd sported “i stand with planned parenthood” stickers that were being handed out. There seemed to be a pretty broad understanding that these two fights should be linked and that they were both part of a broader attack on regular people. This was a surprise.

It could have been a lot better

-No real attempt was made to hold the capitol in the style of the Wisconsin occupation, which was disappointing and could have been done if the people there wanted to take it. This was a missed opportunity.

-There was not much in the conversations that I had that demonstrated people were thinking beyond the union members and about the broader mass of people struggling right now.

-The union approved speakers were not generally getting much support or attention, but were not being openly disagreed with. The ones I heard sounded pretty out of touch, and reinforced my feeling that they don’t have much of a plan to fight back beyond the 2014 elections, which is disgusting to say the least.

-Information flowed only one way, union leadership to the rank-n-file and not the other way around.

I do not have a good sense of what is going to come next. It was clear to me that a range of people attending the protest felt like the right to work attack was a game changer for unions and that they needed to change their response. What that looks like and whether it will have the potential to actually fight back in a meaningful way remains to be seen. While the mainstream union’s next steps are up to them, here are some ideas that can be up to us.

********text from right to work protest flyer*****************

We Need Unions that Fight!

The Republican attempts to weaken and restrict Unions in Michigan are an attack on the entire working-class and must be resisted. The best way to fight is through mass direct action with rank & file workers (unionized and not) in the driver’s seat. This is how the Unions were built and many victories won.

We need:

  • Unions that are democratic with horizontal structures controlled by the rank & file workers
  • Independence from the political parties, the bosses, and the police
  • Solidarity with the entire working-class, including those most marginalized and excluded:

single moms; immigrants; prisoners; minimum wage workers; our people in the ghettos, barrios, trailer parks and reservations

  • Methods of struggle that make us stronger and can get the goods: direct action, occupations, mass picketing, and the General Strike
  • An understanding that we are not up against just a few bad bosses or politicians, but an entire systemcapitalismbuilt on the exploitation of working-class people and the Earth

While the GOP is brazenly open in their hostility and hatred for working people, they are not alone in seeking to control the Labor Movement. The Democratic Party also seeks to render the Unions harmless by co-opting them as an arm of their electoral machine, or giving the Unions a “seat at the table” only to take more cuts and concessions.

This 1-2 punch has left the Unions weak and on the defensive. It has promoted a ruling bureaucracy within the Unions that sees its interests as bound up closer with the bosses and politicians than with us rank & file workers. For the most part we workers and union members have been too complacent in allowing the Labor leaders to pursue this failed course. Where we have stood up, the undemocratic structures within the unions have stifled resistance.

But things are beginning to change. The 2011 mass movement in Wisconsin included mass sick-outs by the teachers, an occupation of the Capitol, and popular sentiment for a General Strike. The Occupy movement a year later popularized the anger we all feel toward the capitalist elite, brought hundreds of thousands out into the streets, and with port workers shut down the West Coast ports.

Let’s start building where we are – in our workplaces, communities and Unions – and make connections with those who feel the same need for a new kind of labor movement – or you could say, an old kind of labor movement – a revolutionary movement.

We need a revolutionary labor movement!