The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

State of Michigan workers just say "NO!"

Sep 22, 2003

The administration of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm just sent out notices of its intent to lay off as many as 3,000 state workers.

Even while announcing this threat, Granholm's spokesperson declared that Granholm was confident lay-offs wouldn't be needed, that the state could come to a deal with employee unions for concessions.

In other words, the lay-off notice was nothing but an outright extortion attempt – much like the kidnapper who threatens to kill a child if the parents don't give him the money he wants.

If Granholm has stooped to extortion, it's because state workers up until now have resisted all her demands for concessions.

Almost as soon as she took office last winter, Granholm let it be known that she wanted concessions totaling $4100 per worker per year from unionized state employees. She may have thought because she was a Democrat that the workers, who were angry at her Republican predecessor, would fall over and play dead. She was wrong.

On April 16, she learned just how wrong she was. Nearly 700 workers turned out that day in front of the state office building in Detroit to angrily demonstrate their unwillingness to give her $4100.

On the very evening of the demonstration, Granholm announced that she would rethink the issue, trying to come up with other ways to save the money, and then her administration let the summer pass. Obviously, they expected that the workers' anger would cool down. Occasionally, they let it be known they were still looking for concessions, but everything was downplayed, waiting for the Fall and a change of heart in the workforce.

Neither the workers' hearts nor their minds were changed by this waiting game. Nor did the threat of layoffs deter them. That was shown on September 18 when state workers came out in still bigger numbers to demonstrate their resolve once again. The one radio station that covered the demonstration reported that over 1,000 people had taken part. Whatever the number, it was impressive, all the more so since people had to take their lunch hour and some workers came not just from the central offices, but from offices around the city.

If anything, the workers were more determined than in April. The two favorite chants were, "No concessions, no way!" and "No pay, no work!" The second slogan was a reference to a program the governor has recently floated which would require workers to continue working the same number of hours, while getting paid for 4 fewer hours per two-week pay period, with a "credit" of sorts going into their account, which they could draw on – but only if they had exhausted all their other days off – or get paid for when they retire.

If the workers maintain their unwillingness to give up a single concession, the state may well try to lay off workers. That happened before. And what happened before can happen again. The work didn't get done then. None of the work can get done this time either. It's already falling further and further behind. And it should. State workers are overworked, with the state having reduced the workforce by over 7,000 through early retirement last year.

If the governor wants to sabotage the functioning of the state, so be it! Let the work go to damnation! Besides, workers know more than their bosses. They know which work to do and which work to let slide.

The same determination that got the workers this war will keep them hanging in to make this new battle when it comes. And it certainly can tide them over so they don't allow the governor to drive a wedge between the newer workers, who fear the lay-offs, and the older workers who've been there before and know they can be fought.