By Diane Bukowski
DETROIT – The start of a TWO-SIDED “class war” was hopefully evident in Lansing April 13. Up to 10,000 members of virtually every union in Michigan, and their supporters, swamped the Capitol building to oppose Governor Rick Snyder’s budget and 41 bills pending in the legislature.
The event was historic, said Herbert Sanders, International Representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). He kicked off the rally, officially sponsored by the We Are the People coalition.
“This is a call to battle,” Sanders said. “It’s time to fight. This moment in history has caused us to build solidarity like never before, and it’s just the beginning. We plan to recall Snyder and every legislator who has advocated these attacks. If that doesn’t work, WE ARE PREPARED TO SHUT THE STATE DOWN!”
Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPbX7nN9Zbk to hear Herbert Sanders’ excellent speech.
The demonstrators were Black, Latin and white, male, female and LGBT, young folks and seniors, child care workers making minimum wage and public workers at every level (many of them also living in poverty), including clericals, custodians, bus drivers, teachers, and nurses. The private sector was represented by steelworkers, autoworkers, laborers, and even members of elite skilled trades unions who are normally divorced from the general working-class fray.
Many Detroit bus drivers called in sick to attend, carrying red “ATU” signs (Amalgamated Transit Union). They were docked a day’s pay by Mayor Dave Bing’s anti-union
administration, in the wake of his budget address the day before. It was AFSCME Council 25, which represents City of Detroit workers, that put out the initial call for the April 13 Day of Unity.
The rally was scheduled for 12 noon to 5 p.m., with the intention that many committed workers would leave their jobs to give the state government a taste of what might be to come.
Sanders ticked off a list of all the unions there, with their members roaring in response.
“In the coming days, the legislature will start voting on Snyder’s budget,” he said. “That includes $564 million in public education cuts, $200 million in higher education, eliminating the earned income tax for working families, taxes on seniors’ pensions to pay for $1.2 billion in tax cuts for the corporations and CEO’s, contracting out union services to address the budget shortfalls as a result of huge corporate tax breaks, and a litany of more than 40 bills in the legislature designed to take away 75 years of progress for working America.”
The crowd chanted repeatedly, “THAT’S NOT RIGHT!”
One worker cried out, “Don’t forget the fact that we know how to fight!” Chants of “This is what democracy looks like!” were raised as well.
“I gave 30 years of service to Wayne County, I went to work every day,” said Dorothy Burrell.
“Now the government wants to tax my pension, and [Wayne County Executive Robert] Ficano has already taken part of our 13th bonus check, which is the only thing we have left because we lost our cost of living increases. We are paying more for our health benefits too.”
One of the bills pending in the legislature would force all public workers to pay 20 percent of the cost of their health care.
“Whose money, our money! Whose pension? Our pension! Whose house, our house!” the protesters chanted repeatedly.
Marsha Chatman, a lead Special Ed teacher at Keiden Elementary in Detroit, said, “I’m here because of cuts involving 470 students. We’re already in a deficit, and we don’t need any more cuts. We hoped this governor would bring jobs, but instead he has divided the state and taken everything away. Those that put him in there want him out now. He’s not been in office six months, and look at all these people.”
Her co-worker, Detroit Federation of Teachers union steward Rochelle Massingill, also of Keiden school, denounced Robert Bobb’s cuts at DPS, approved by the state.
“This is prompting a lot of the best teachers, especially new teachers, not to come to the district,” Massingill said. “Principals, occupational therapists, social workers and others are leaving. They are attacking not only the students and their families, but our families. Young teachers have to look out for their future.”
Despite the failure of United Auto Workers President Bob King to attend the rally or join the call for it, numerous UAW locals turned out with their banners and placards anyway.
Dan Tyler of UAW Local 651 in Flint carried a homemade sign declaring, “Never forget who paved the way for the rights we have today! Why should THEY have to pay?”
It was the historic Flint autoworkers sitdown which launched a nationwide flood of plant and workplace takeovers, leading to the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which later linked with the American Federal of Labor.
“There are all sorts of UAW locals here,” Tyler said. “If you’re not rich, if you’re middle or working class or poor, everything they’re doing has an impact on everybody’s way of life. They tax us and leave the rich alone, when they are the ones who can afford it the most.”
A song of “We are the union, mighty, mighty union,” arose from the ranks of a sea of green-shirted AFSCME members from all over the state. UAW Local 869 leader David Edgar paced the stage, leading chants of “What do we need? JOBS! When do we need them? NOW! GOOD JOBS NOW!”
The stage was crowded with workers holding banners from the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, UNITE, the UAW, the Michigan Nurses Association, the Laborers International Union, the Sprinkler Fitters, and many others.
Flags and banners from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Postal Workers Union (APWU), the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), the Graduate Employees Organization, the Sheetmetal Workers, the Plumbers, the Bricklayers, the Boilermakers, the Cement Masons, the Ironworkers, the Teamsters, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Communications Workers of America, and the United Food and Commercial Workers flew in the bright sunlight.
“We pray to our God that if the hands [of Snyder and the lawmakers] sign those bills to tax pensions and end collective bargaining, they will become withered hands,” said the Rev. David Bullock, head of the Detroit Chapter of Rainbow:PUSH during the invocation. “We pray to our God that the tongues of those who speak ill of the workers, of teachers, firefighters, public employees, those who built this country, will stick to the roofs of their mouths.”
Bullock diplomatically avoided referencing the Biblical alternatives to the punishments he cited.
After Sanders, Mary Pollack, president of the Michigan State Employee Retirees’ Union, with 150,000 members, addressed the crowd.
“We believe this proposed tax shift to seniors and working people while disinvesting in Michigan communities is unfair,” Pollack said, to chants of “THAT’S UNFAIR.”
She noted that over 70 percent of her members have pensions under $24,000, while 15 percent get less than $12,000 a year.
“Yet the governor and leaders of the House and Senate propose to tax our pensions while eliminating taxes on 95 percent of the businesses in our state, and slashing the budgets for education, human services, and health care,” she said. “We need better schools and universities; we need the government to fund public services, not tax breaks.”
A young organizer from the Alliance for Immigration Rights denounced ICE raids in southwest Detroit and anti-immigration legislation passed in Arizona and proposed in Michigan.
“Our families are being ripped apart by the raids, and our people are being stopped by the police because of the color of their skins,” she said. “We are not hardcore criminals like the Wall Street banks who go to the casinos with our mortgage and retirement money, like the CEO’s laying off workers and causing the collapse of their companies.”
She led the crowd in a chant of “Si, se puede!” (yes, we can).
One of the bills in the hopper would deny child care workers the right to unionize, and Snyder’s budget cuts subsidies for child care.
“We are part of the backbone of Michigan communities, but we have been abandoned,” said child care worker Robin Edwards. “We give other workers the support they need every day. But Rick Snyder is working to prevent us from organizing. This is not the Michigan we believe in.”
A teacher in the East Detroit High School system denounced emergency manager laws and other pending bills, saying they would destroy public education in the state of Michigan.
“They are taking 15 to 20 percent out of school budgets evcrywhere, they’ve cut funds for remediation, enrichment courses , and basic education period,” he said. “If there are no teachers, there will be no education for kids. There is a $600 million surplus in K-12 funding now; it must be used to properly fund education.”
“YA BASTA!” the crowd chanted, as Graduate Employees Organization representative Serge Farines denounced the increased tax burden on workers and the poor. He called on the demonstrators to join in a protest outside the University of Michigan commencement April 30, where Snyder is scheduled to be the keynote speaker.
A round of cheers went up for Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, who was defeated by Snyder in the gubernatorial race.
Some present at the rally said they believed the Democratic Party did not throw its full support behind Bernero because of his militant stance against the corporations, banks and mortgage companies.
His opponent in the primary, former House Speaker Andy Dillon, was supported by the likes of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, and former Mayor Dennis Archer.
Dillon is now State Treasurer, busy training Emergency Managers across the state in league with the proponents of state takeovers of municipalities and school districts.
One sign in the crowd read “No compromises! No share the sacrifices! No givebacks! We need a workers’ party that fights the Dems/GOP with HARD class struggle!”
Bernero told the crowd, “YOU make this state and this country, not the moneymakers on Wall Street, not the big banksters, not those in every corporate boardroom!”
International union leaders from the IBEW and from the Utility Workers Union flew in from Chicago and New York to address the crowd, among dozens of other speakers. Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, whose staff helped organize busloads of demonstrators from Detroit, was present on-stage as well.
On her WHPR TV show, Watson has asked supporters to call her office at 313-224-3435 if they are interested in attending a special announcement April 21 related to city legislation against water department takeovers.
More information on upcoming events can be obtained by calling the headquarters of AFSCME Council 25 in Detroit at 313-964-1711.
Also listed as a contact for the We are the People Coalition on a press release was Zack Pohl at 517-980-6190.
Organizers also asked those interested in being notified of the ongoing struggle to text MI to 225568, so their phones could be added to the growing battle against the neo-Nazi like attacks on the country’s working and poor people.