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As Right To Work Push Begins in Michigan, Police Arrest Protesters, Use Pepper Spray, Lock Down Capitol

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As expected, Michigan Republicans rolled out right to work legislation today, which Governor Rick Snyder, previously seen trying to court a moderate pose, said he would sign into law.

The legislation would impact public and private employees except for police and fire unions. Republicans will attempt to pass it by the end of the month through both houses of the legislature, which they control. If they have the votes among their own members, there really isn’t a whole lot Democrats have at their disposal to stop it.

Protesters flooded the state capitol in Lansing today, and had trouble getting inside:

Union activists demonstrated outside and inside the Romney Building, which houses Snyder’s offices, and poured into the Capitol across the street. At about 12:30 p.m., State Police said no one was being allowed into the Capitol — including employees — because it was at capacity. Even UAW President Bob King was having trouble attempting to get inside.

Pictures from inside the Capitol building show it to be almost empty in many places, actually. Meanwhile, protesters who have managed to gain access have been arrested and pepper sprayed:

Michigan State Police say several protestors have been arrested for disobeying lawful command, trying to push their way into Senate chambers.

Police sprayed chemical munitions into a crowd when it tried to rush the Senate floor, said Michigan State Police Inspector Gene Adamczyk.

“When several of the individuals rushed the troopers, they used chemical munitions to disperse the crowd,” he said. “It would be a lot worse if someone gets hurt and I failed to act.”

I appreciate the proper use of “chemical munitions.” State Senate Democrats filed a lawsuit to re-open the Capitol. Reportedly, protesters number about 1,000 inside the building and 500 or so outside, though those reports have varied. Protesters have also blocked the door to the Senate.

This is eerily reminiscent of labor fights in other Midwest states like Indiana and Wisconsin, both of which ultimately ended in Republican lawmakers getting their way, and a consequent decline in unionization and labor power. Snyder basically stated that as an end goal today, saying that Indiana’s “economic activity has increased and business has grown” as a result of right to work.

The bills are slated to move to the floor of the legislature, without committee hearings, as soon as today, and certainly during the lame duck session, when Republicans have greater numbers (they lost five state House seats in November). They would not be given immediate effect, a notorious practice in Michigan. They would instead take effect April 1. So just as the emergency manager law in Michigan goes away, right to work could take its place.

More here.

…a clause entered into the legislation, underway in the Michigan House, would make it impossible to undo right to work by a referendum of the people.

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David Dayen

David Dayen