Undoing Michigan election

From the new January-February 2013 issue of News & Letters:

Editorial

Undoing Michigan election

With lightning swiftness a super-majority of Michigan lame-duck Republicans passed a series of oppressive bills at the end of December. Defying voters’ expressed views, they passed an anti-union “right-to-work” law, an anti-abortion bill and a dictatorial emergency manager act. This was accomplished despite a record number–over 12,500–of protestors who stormed and occupied the legislative chamber and rallied around the Capitol building for two days prior to the vote. These laws, while immediately impacting those who live in Michigan, offer a template to other reactionaries and must be exposed and fiercely opposed.

Michiganders watched in disbelief. This is Michigan, home of the powerful United Auto Workers (UAW) union which saw its birth in the sit-down strikes of the 1930s. Back then, UAW leadership was eager to challenge corporations and represent the aspirations of the rank-and-file workers in battles that raised the living standards of everyone.

ATTACK ON UNIONS IN A UNION STATE

But that was then, this is now. Now the UAW leadership has capitulated to the corporate mentality, which has become increasingly anti-union and anti-labor. The effort to oppose the right-to-work legislation didn’t have as much support as it would have, had the unions maintained their pro-labor stance. So-called “right to work” makes it illegal to require a worker to financially support a union as a condition of employment. It’s a legislative way to destroy unions and thus collective bargaining.

While in 2011 Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who campaigned as a moderate, said right-to-work was not on his agenda, he did an about-face and signed the right-to-work bill the day it passed the legislature. The law goes into effect on April 1 and will cover all public and private employees except police and firefighters.

Labor leaders got a constitutional proposition on the November ballot that would have effectively stopped any right-to-work legislation. The anger and disappointment with union leaders was apparent when that proposition failed. What passed by 52% with the backing of labor activists, concerned parents and regular citizens was a proposal to remove the emergency manager law. Under the rejected law, the emergency manager, appointed by the governor, took dictatorial power over a city in financial distress, including the right to void union contracts and override elected school boards.

WILL OF THE VOTERS DISREGARDED

Snyder’s new emergency manager law is similar to the one rejected by the voters, allowing an unelected manager to void contracts, sell municipal property, take control of school districts and consolidate or dissolve municipal governments. A new “Educational Achievement Authority” will cancel contracts for employees of schools transferred into the system, requiring them to negotiate with the anti-labor appointed Emergency Manager. The new law is so similar to the one that was voted down that it faces legal challenges.

Snyder brays, “This legislation demonstrates that we clearly heard and respected the will of the voters,” but he made sure to include a mechanism in the revised law sheltering it from any future voter referendum.

Detroit activist and school board member Elena Herrada expressed the widespread outrage over Snyder’s underhanded practice: “We won repeal of Public Act 4. They stay in place without leaving for one day, until a new law that cannot be repealed is written. I never dreamed of the day when Mexican politics looked better than U.S. politics. For all those millions of Mexicans who can’t vote in the U.S.: Don’t feel like you’re missing anything!”

ATTACKS ON WOMEN AS WELL

The other major legislation rammed through shows again the contempt Snyder and the Republican-controlled legislature have for those they pretend to represent. Despite huge demonstrations in June against similar legislation–including a bill forcing a woman to carry a dead fetus to term–the lame ducks pushed through a bill that classifies fetal remains at 10 weeks, when it weighs a half ounce, as a dead body. Women who experience spontaneous abortion as well as ones by choice have to request the remains be “cremated, buried or interred.” In an attempt to force clinics to close, they mandated absurd standards for the size of exam rooms, hallways, number of parking spaces, etc. It would restrict telemedical abortions, which provide essential health services to women in rural areas; prevent private insurance companies from covering abortion services; and, ominously, allow medical personnel to refuse needed health services–not only abortion–if it is against their “moral belief” or a “matter of conscience.” This opens the door for doctors to refuse to write birth control prescriptions or treat many ailments.

That this could happen in the birthplace of the UAW was a huge victory for Snyder and his reactionary Republican cronies. Like Arizona’s 2010 anti-immigrant law, they hope that this new legislation will be a model for right-wing blitzkriegs across the land. Snyder was helped by a huge infusion of money from the 1% across the U.S. This must be opposed by the rest of us if we are to keep the poison from spreading.

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