Friday, May 11, 2012

Illegal Strike Looming in Detroit?

Public sector workers in Michigan are forbidden by law from striking, yet several Detroit municipal unions are considering strikes as Mayor Bing plans to eviscerate them by extracting devastating concessions and cutting more than 2,500 city jobs (25% of the total), according to the Daily Finance. His goal is to avoid being taken over by an emergency financial manager who would have the ability to rip up collective bargaining agreements and fire the mayor and city council. The concessions could include job outsourcing, no automatic reinstatement of higher pay levels, as well as health care and pension givebacks.

Despite the illegal status of strikes, Detroit workers have a long history of defying the ban and striking anyway. In November, bus drivers walked off the job for a half-day over safety concerns and in May of 2007 over similar safety issues. Garbage collectors and bus drivers
shut down service for 19 days during a 1986 strike and 1,700 workers held a three-day strike in 1978.

In March, 30 of the city’s unions sold out their members by giving away major concessions to the city, including a 10% pay cut, layoffs, and changes to their pensions. It will be interesting to see if any of these unions strike. It will be interesting to see if any of these unions go on strike. Considering what they are up against, they have little to lose.

It is important for workers everywhere to remember that ALL strikes were once illegal and workers were routinely assaulted by thugs, goons, vigilantes, police and federal troops. (For a partial history of the violence unleashed on the labor movement, please see Modern Schools Labor Timeline). Workers have made all of their most significant gains, (including moribund ones like the 40-hour work week, weekends, and overtime), through sacrifices and risks such as refusing to work even when work stoppages were illegal.

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