By Ruth Conniff
Michigan state police used chemical weapons -- pepper spray or something similar -- on union members protesting a "right to work" bill that is being rushed through the lame-duck Michigan legislature. Eight union members were arrested; police said they were trying to enter the Senate chamber.
Though lawmaking is often a leisurely process, the right to work bill was passed by the Michigan House on the same day it was introduced. The legislation is expected to become law next week. Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who spent his first two years in office maintaining that right to work was too divisive and not on his agenda, endorsed the bill. Snyder said the measure was needed to remain competitive with Indiana, which enacted a right to work measure earlier this year. A Michigan right to work law will drive a stake into the heart of unionism in the industrial Midwest.
Several thousand union members were inside the capitol building when police locked the doors.
"We will not have another Wisconsin in Michigan," state police inspector Gene Adamczyk told the Associated Press.
Another thousand outside overwhelmed a handful of right to work supporters from Americans for Prosperity, who were trying to hold a rally on the capitol steps.
Photo by Jim West -- http://www.jimwestphoto.com
Two huge, but nearly empty, Americans for Prosperity tents occupied the capitol lawn. A continuous loop of Ronald Reagan speeches playing on the group's sound system was for the most part drowned out by chanting protesters.
In the spirit of George Orwell, the Republican legislators have renamed their legislation "Freedom to Work," saying it gives workers "more control over their own lives, pocketbook and employment." Department of Labor statistics show that it gives workers less money. A middle school teacher in a right to work state, for instance, earns $6,500 less than his or her counterparts in non-right-to-work states.
Jim West is a photographer specializing in labor and social issues -- jimwestphoto.com.
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