Several hundred protesters waving placards and banners thronged on the steps of Michigan’ state capitol building in Lansing on December 11. Many sang songs and issued chants of “Solidarity Forever, the union makes us strong,” as others defied Governor Rick Snyder and fellow Republicans over state legislation that could turn Michigan into the latest to become a ‘right to work’ state. Teamsters’ national leader James Hoffa was among the union men present who denounced Republicans for the move. Some Michigan school districts announced closings today, thus allowing unionized teachers to attend the pro-labor rally.
Autoworker Ken Holmes fron the Flint area was on hand at 4 AM at the capitol “to witness history,” he told Spero News. Fellow autoworkers are outraged at the Republican-controlled legislature and Governor Snyder for their methods of passing the legislation last week. Local media estimate that between 5,000 to 10,000 demonstrators are expected today at the state Capitol to voice support or opposition for the controversial legislation. Governor Snyder is expected to sign the bill, which would prohibit unions from requiring dues as a condition of employment. It would make Michigan the 24th state to adopt right-to-work legislation.
President Barack Obama, on a swing through the Mitten State, said that the legislation is all about politics and workers’ “rights to bargain for better wages.” Speaking at a Daimler Detroit Diesel factory near the Motor City, Obama vowed that his administration will be more forceful in supporting organized labor than it was in Wisconsin in 2011. The inaction on the part of his administration drew stinging rebukes for workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere. This time, Obama has come out swinging and said that the new right-to-work legislation is merely a “race to the bottom” that will not help the flagging U.S. economy. “What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” Obama told a small group at the factory. “We don’t want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top.” Obama said the new laws “don’t have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics."
Obama’s grip-and-grin visit to the Daimler plant occurred following the company’s announcement that it is investing $100 million to manufacture engines for heavy-duty trucks. The investment is hoped to add jobs in a state where unemployment remains high despite benefiting from Obama’s auto bailout earlier in the administration.
Obama also used the occasion to pressure Congress, especially the Republican-controlled House, over negotiations on a national budget. In Detroit, Obama reminded listeners that they cannot afford an additional average hike of $2,200 in taxes if lawmakers do not prevent an expiration of middle-class tax breaks from expiring. “It’s true. Y’all don’t like that,” Obama said.