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Wisconsin protests spread to Michigan

By Tom Burke

Taking their lead from Wisconsin, 1200 protesters rallied against attacks on uni

Lansing, MI – Taking their lead from Wisconsin, 1200 protesters rallied against attacks on unions and democracy at the Michigan State Capitol, Feb. 22. Union fire fighters were out in force and in uniform, carrying signs reading, “Support Act 312,” a 1969 law establishing binding arbitration. Binding arbitration requires towns and cities to work out their differences with the workers.

A Dearborn fire fighter said, “We are here to protect Act 312 and our bargaining rights. We want Governor Snyder and elected officials to work with us, not just impose cuts. 95% of contracts are settled without arbitration. The current system is fair and transparent, with 71% of arbitration rulings siding with city government and the remaining solved in a workable manner with our unions.” The firefighters unions represented came from Grand Rapids, Dearborn and Flint.

African-American elected officials spoke one after another about the loss of decision-making power due to Emergency Financial Managers (EFM) takeovers. The common refrain was, “Governor Snyder plans to replace democracy with tyranny.” Michigan State officials can appoint an EFM who bypasses local elected officials and makes all financial decisions.

In Michigan, like Wisconsin, politicians are refusing to raise taxes on the rich to pay for basic services and put an end to the financial crisis. The Republicans swept the recent elections and are launching Tea Party-inspired attacks on African-American cities and public sector unions – teachers, fire fighters, city services and all levels of government.

Many signs and chants reflected the anger at Emergency Financial Managers. An EFM has taken over and is dismantling the Detroit public school system. EFM Robert Bobb is cutting Detroit schools from 142 down to 72, cutting the number of teachers and increasing class sizes to up to 60 students. The school board and the teachers’ union are organizing to stop the gutting of public education.

Due to Governor Rick Snyder’s announcement that he is cutting revenue sharing with local governments, the working class suburb of Allen Park fired all 26 firefighters and employees this week. There is no backup plan.

A school bus driver told AFSCME Council 25 Secretary-Treasurer Larry Roehrig that her school district is going to hand over buses, equipment and drivers to a for-profit company so union members are no longer covered for health care and pensions. Roehrig replied, “We need to fight privatization with all the unions sticking together.” When asked how the attacks in Michigan compare to Wisconsin, AFSCME’s Roehrig replied, “Governor Snyder’s plans are more insidious because he can void collective bargaining on a case by case basis, voiding contracts at will. Snyder and the Republicans are well funded by big corporations in Western Michigan who are anti-labor.” It is no wonder that many speakers called Governor Snyder the “the newly elected Republican dictator.”

A movement appears to be rising quickly in Michigan as the attacks on labor and local democracy escalate from Governor Snyder and the State Capitol. More protest are planned.

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