This evening, the Republican majority in both houses of the Michigan Legislature rammed through Right-to-Work legislation. Our corporatist governor has declared his intention to sign it.
How can this have happened in Michigan? This is the cradle of the union movement. What has happened to my home state?
This vile legislation was rammed through with the speed of cowards who fear what will happen if they pause and take stock of what they are doing.
If you want to know why American workers enjoyed unequaled prosperity in the 20th century, it was because in 1937 Walter Reuther stood on an overpass over Miller Road, in front of the Ford Rouge plant. He and others were going to leaflet the workers as they left at shift change. They were organizers. They were building the United Auto Workers.
As they had their picture taken by a newspaper photographer who was there to document the effort, a gang of thugs came up on them from behind. There may have been as many as 40. They began to beat Reuther and his associates. The union men were outnumbered, outweighed and outfought. They were thrown to the pavement and kicked and bludgeoned.
It came to be known as the Battle of the Overpass. Ford denied sending thugs to beat the organizers but the NLRB disagreed and Ford was ordered to stop interfering with union organizing efforts.
It was only one incident among many. But gradually, after spilling blood, sacrificing on the picket line, enduring every hardship imaginable, workers pulled together. They became union men and women. They stood up and demanded fair treatment, safe workplaces and adequate wages.
Because the unions demanded fair wages, even non-union workplaces were forces to raise wages to compete with the unionized companies.
This did not lead to the unionized companies going bankrupt. Because their workers could afford to buy the things they made, everyone prospered.
Unions built the American prosperity of the 20th century. Unions gave workers dignity. Unions led the march to safe workplaces.
The strength of the unions in the auto industry spread out across other industries.
If you work a five-day week and are paid overtime for anything more than 40 hours, thank a union. If your workplace is safe, thank a union. If you have paid vacations and health insurance, thank a union. All these things were won by unions -- for everyone. Unions have never hoarded their advantages. Unions are about making things better for everyone.
Michigan became an industrial powerhouse because of unions. And now, our government has been co-opted by people who want to destroy the unions and everything they fought for and won.
They want us to work unlimited hours without overtime pay. They want to take away our pensions and health insurance. They want us to work in unsafe conditions, if those conditions produce a little more profit.
They want to take away the dignity of working men and women and make them dependent for every crumb of food, thread of clothing, every board of shelter. They want to use us until our bodies give out and then push us out the door with no security, no future, no prospects. They want the many to toil for the benefit of the few.
They want to smash the power of the unions that protect us all.
This naked grab for power was rushed through in the lame duck session because they wouldn't be guaranteed the votes to pass it if they waited for the new session to start.
They stood in the Capitol and rushed through their toxic legislation as the people of Michigan stood in the gallery and the halls calling out for them to stop and consider what they were doing.
They were deaf to the cries of the people.
It is a dark night, indeed, in Michigan.
If you look at a map, you'll see that Michigan looks like a hand. It's an appropriate image for a state where the labor of many hands built prosperity that was the envy of the world.
And now, we are seeing our strength stolen, our dignity trampled. We're like those organizers back in 1937 who stood on an overpass and took a beating so your family would have food, shelter, education, health and comfort. We're taking a beating.
It's not over. Tomorrow, we have to get up and regroup and start the hard work of undoing what has been done. Tomorrow, we organize again.
But tonight, Michigan, my Michigan, I weep for you.