In a historic win for labor unions and workers all across the state of Michigan, the Michigan Senate voted 20-17, along party lines, on Senate Bill 34, which officially ends the state’s “right-to-work” laws. The State House previously passed their version of the bill, HB 4005, on March 8th. On Friday, March 24th, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer it.
When the senate bill came to the floor, union members from across the state filled the gallery and overflowed into the rotunda, singing songs such as “Solidarity Forever” and “Mighty, Mighty Union.” There were some counter protesters who attempted to start a “My job, my choice” chant, but were quickly drowned out by union members chanting, “Scabs go home!”
One union member, when asked about what the repeal meant to them, said, “I wanted to be there and be part of history instead of watching it on TV. Being a part of a union means I’m a part of something bigger, being part of something I stand for, and being safe and secure in the workplace. Being a steward means I can give voice to and help out my fellow workers.” After the bill officially passed the senate vote, workers let out a collective cheer in the gallery.
Once Democrats won majorities in both the state house and senate in the 2022 elections, labor unions and their supporters immediately began the effort to repeal the anti-worker laws.
Labor unions such as the American Federation of Teachers, United Food and Commercial Workers, LIUNA, United Auto Workers, Michigan Nurses Association and others went to work to bring this issue to the forefront of the political stage and to rally support. The Michigan District of CPUSA contributed by collecting signatures from workers all across the state for several months in support of the repeal.
Right-to-work exists in 27 states in the U.S., and it declares that workers who are a part of a bargaining unit are not required to contribute financially while still reaping the benefits of being in the union.
In 2021, non-union workers in Michigan receiving union protections hit a record high at 10.21%. While Republicans consistently complain about people on welfare being “freeloaders,” they seem to have no problem with workers freeloading off of their union while not contributing to their efforts.
Right-to-work has its origins in the 1930’s and 40’s as a means to segregate white and Black workers. Vance Muse, an oil lobbyist and open KKK supporter, is credited with popularizing right-to-work. During the campaign to install the policy in Arkansas in 1944, Muse railed against “white women and men [being] forced into organizations with Black” people, even comparing Black people to animals.
In 1961, Martin Luther King Jr. said about right-to-work laws, “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right-to-work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”
It has been 11 years since then-Governor Snyder passed right-to-work during a lame-duck session in 2012. Since then, the damage has been significant to the working class of Michigan. Union membership declined from 17.1% of workers in 2012 to just 15.3% in 2022. Wages during that time increased just 12%, while inflation increased 29%.
In other words, “right-to-work amounted to a right to starve workers as Republicans and their backers did their best to suppress labor unions. Part of the state senate bill also attaches $2 million to educate businesses about the repeal, but more importantly, it makes the law referendum-proof as no bill attached to spending can be overturned with a ballot initiative.
Now that right-to-work has been dealt with, what is the next step for the labor movement? A union member at the rally in Lansing said, “We need to keep organizing, stick together, secure better contracts, form more unions and increase union membership.”
The state house also passed bill HB 4007 concerning “prevailing wage,” a law that affects contracted workers on state projects. That law was repealed by the Republican legislature in 2018 and is another priority of the new Democratic-led legislature.
There is also the issue of child labor, which is rearing its ugly head all over the country. In February, the New York Times uncovered migrant child labor in facilities that produce goods for Ford, General Motors, and General Mills in West Michigan.
Whatever the union movement chooses to do next, workers are making their voices heard and they know companies are making immense profits off of their work. As one worker put it, “Without us, the corporations we work for won’t have any profits.” We at the Michigan District of CPUSA stand in solidarity with the workers of the world, and seek to build worker power and end the misery inflicted upon us by the capitalist class and their collaborators.
Image: Protestors march toward Michigan state Capitol in 2012 to protest the signing of “right to work” by Gov. Snyder, photo by Eric Seals / Detroit Free Press.