They took over the capitol steps, staged a sit-in inside the capitol building and shut down the office building of the Governor. They drove the anti-union Tea Party activists off the capitol lawn and dismantled their tents.
Michigan teachers staged a one-day "sick-out" strike, forcing a number of school districts to close for the day. 17,000 workers, students and labor allies protested throughout a cold and windy day on Dec. 11 in Lansing, Michigan to stop the union-busting "right to work" bill.
Working in the interests of a handful of billionaires who pushed for the union-busting law, the outgoing state legislature rammed the bill through in a few short days. Gov. Snyder quickly signed the bill into law on Dec. 11.
The outpouring of resistance to the bill demonstrates that workers are ready to fight back against austerity and the anti-union offensive.
Make no mistake: The passage of the anti-union law in Michigan, the symbolic home of the labor movement in the U.S., makes it crystal clear what the wealthy corporate owners hope to do: They want to rally the right-wing in an all out effort to throw the unions off a cliff.
How should the people respond? The passing of the "Right to Work" bill in Michigan is a setback. But it doesn't have to be limited to that. The law should be used as a rallying call. The legislative and electoral arenas are dead ends. It's time to rebuild a fighting labor movement. The strike and other militant strategies and tactics must be employed with great urgency in order to stop the war being waged on unions and social services.
This is what some workers and students had to say at the Dec. 11 Protest:
Amber, AFSCME Local 207 in Detroit
"We're out here to protect our union. They've already cut our pay 10% and taken away our optical benefits. Without a union it would have been much worse. These attacks are on purpose. The wealthy want to make us pay, make the poor pay. We need our unions because we need to stop the wealthy from taking more money out of our pockets."
Tom, restaurant worker and son of a union teacher
"I have a lot of friends who graduated from college with me who are working in a kitchen like I am. I don't have a union. I want a union. I work ten hours a day, on my feet. It's dangerous work. This bill is not just an attack on union workers, it's an attack on workers like me who are not unionized."
Jonathan, nursing student at Michigan State University
"We're not really seeing a bill being voted on. This is not democracy. This is a back alley deal. It's not right that we cannot vote on the bill. The people of Michigan are not for this anti-union bill."
Marie, Students for Choice at Michigan State University
"I am here to defend planned parenthood and to defend the unions as well. All our struggles are one. We're all under attack, so it's very important that we all stand together."
Sharryl Sullivan, retired teacher
"We shut down our school district today so we could to come to Lansing to fight against the bill. I'm proud of our teachers. I'm proud of everybody who is out here today. This is not the end. We're going to keep fighting and we will defeat the attacks against us."
The Truth About "Right to Work" Laws
"Right to Work” legislation is a deceptive term because it has nothing to do with the demand for jobs. Such laws do not guarantee any rights; in fact they limit rights. They make it illegal to bargain what are called union security agreements, a common feature of contracts for about the last 80 years.
A more accurate term would be “Right to Work for Less.”
Right to Work laws weaken the voice for better wages and benefits by making it illegal to require all who benefit from a contract to pay dues or to bargain a contract clause requiring everyone to pay dues to cover the cost of bargaining and enforcing the contract that they benefit from. That weakens the organization.
Wages are lower in Right to Work states. An average worker in a Right to Work state earns about $7,131 a year less than workers in states where unions are free to bargain over union security. Right to Work states also have higher poverty rates. According to calculations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 41 percent higher in states with Right to Work laws.