The night before the chaos

By Sam Inglot
Sam Inglot/City Pulse

Right to Work protesters at MSU discuss Tuesday's rally at the Capitol

Monday, Dec. 10 — It is the eve before what is expected to be a monumental labor protest with an ending that is likely to leave Michigan the 24th Right to Work state in the country.

Tonight at Erickson Hall on Michigan State University’s campus, 19 people who will be protesting Right to Work legislation discussed rumors, expectations, strategy and what to do after tomorrow’s massive demonstration.

The group was a mix of union members, students, city employees and teachers. The name of the meeting was: “Turn Lansing into Madison! Strategy Meeting” — a call to mimic the large scale protests that occurred in Wisconsin over similar collective bargaining issues.

Jeff Bale, a 40-year-old assistant professor of teacher education at MSU, organized the event. Bale said tenure track faculty is the only non-unionized faculty or employee group on campus.

“It’s going to be a really, really big event and people are really angry,” Bale said. “It’s been a series of very serious attacks on labor rights and civil rights over the past few years and I think people are going to bring a lot of anger and frustration tomorrow. What’s good is that there is a union led mobilization to get people out.”

Although she’s “fairly certain” that Right to Work will pass tomorrow, Ashley Woodson, a 26-year-old NAACP member and MSU grad student said the “showing of solidarity” between working people will be a strong symbolic gesture.

“I really hope that tomorrow, the show of solidarity will demonstrate that, even across income lines and gender and racial barriers, there is a concerted effort and concrete interest for people working together and coming together to fight these attacks on our ability to advocate for ourselves as laborers,” she said.  

Woodson said protesting against Right to Work is a “social justice issue” and said the protest goes beyond union versus anti-union.

“This is much bigger than if you’re formally a member of a union,” she said. “This refers to all of us as citizens, all of us as laborers, all of us who have an interest in protecting those who might otherwise not have a voice.”

She said the protest would also be a response to the way Right to Work legislation passed the Senate and House chambers so quickly and underhandedly in a lame duck session.

“I really think that this will be a demonstration that political cowardice is not going to go over well in Michigan,” she said. “If you decide to attack people’s rights to organize, their rights to advocate on one another’s behalf, then there will be a show of support and there will be outrage and there will be resistance to that type of movement.”

From the discussion the group had, it doesn’t sound like there’s much of plan floating around other than being there and being loud. The group said in the discussion that the unions had organized a series of speakers throughout the day and that some union members had undergone civil disobedience training — and may be prepared to be arrested for protesting. There was a similar meeting to the one at MSU taking place in Detroit tonight as well, Bale said.