Events, Labor — December 11, 2013 at 7:13 am

A few things to remember about a day to never forget: the day the birthplace of the labor movement became right to work


Never, ever forget

Eclectagraphic by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog

A year ago today, Michigan, the birthplace of the modern labor movement, became the country’s 24th right to work state. Though it has failed to kill the labor movement in the way its corporatist proponents had hoped it would, neither has it done anything that could even remotely be considered good for job growth in our state. In fact, a continuous drop in Michigan’s unemployment rate came to an abrupt end several months later and it began to rise again. For the past three months, it’s been stalled at 9%, the third worst in the country.

I thought it would be a good idea to look back one year and remember that this wasn’t just a blatant union-busting move by Republicans that came out of of nowhere. It was, in fact, an orchestrated event that began days in advance and continued for several days afterwards. Our coverage of the day received national attention, particularly our liveblog of the huge rally that happened on the Capitol lawn with Anne’s on-the-scene photos and my reporting on the Fox-style video editing that happened after the fact to vilify union members.

Let’s take a trip back one year to recall what led to the cataclysmic events of December 11, 2012.

The day before the rally, Working Michigan asked labor supporters to wear red in solidarity with union members. This image went viral, shared over 8,000 times on Facebook:

As plans for the rally unfolded, we learned that members from the Ironworkers Local 8 in Wisconsin would be traveling to Michigan to show their support. On the other hand, we also learned that funding for the drive to make Michigan an anti-labor state also came from Wisconsin. Wealthy corporatist Michael Grebe, “the Money Badger”, was found to be a major funder.

The day before the rally, President Obama visited Michigan and gave his support to the labor movement in a speech during his visit:

[B]y the way, what we shouldn’t do — I just got to say this — what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions. We shouldn’t be doing that. These so-called “right to work” laws, they don’t have anything to do with economics; they have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.

Several days before the rally, I broke the story that the Capitol lawn had been reserved by the corporatist front group “Involve America”. The group was a 501(c)(4) group meaning that its funding is hidden but it was clear based on events that they’d had on college campuses the year before that they had money coming from somewhere. And they weren’t the only group to reserve the Capitol lawn to thwart union supporters. In fact, it was reserved by anti-union groups every single day that week.

Here’s what I wrote then:

The fact that they are a 501(c)(4) organization is not a coincidence. This allows them to receive funding without having to disclose who the donors are. This group, which is clearly engaged in promoting tea party values in the same way as Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth, doesn’t reveal even a tiny glimpse of where they get their funding. But they clearly DO have funding. At a rally in at the University of New Hampshire, for example, they gave away “T-shirts, hats and raffle prizes”. They did the same thing at Iowa State University and, based on this photo from their Facebook page, they had a lot of swag to hand out:

Interestingly they haven’t had any events or updated their Facebook page since a bit over a year ago. Now, suddenly, they’re having a rally at the state Capitol Building the very same day as a major labor protest rally, and they have reserved the entire front of the Capitol for it.

Other conservative groups have reserved the front of the Capitol Building through the end of next week, as well. On Wednesday, it’s Americans for Prosperity and on Thursday it’s The Michigan Conservative News. The legislature is not in session on Friday.

The day before the rally, it was very clear that the Michigan State Police were girding themselves for an epic battle. This photo was posted on the Maddow Blog and speaks for itself:

The mayor’s office provided a map of streets that would be closed down, some schools closed because so many of their unionized teachers were going to be at the rally and the city bus service rerouted some of its routes.

The day before the rally, I sent out a warning for people not to be punk’d by imposters posing as union members and there to incite … whatever. It was a prescient warning as it turned out.

A Michigan tea party group sent out an email warning that there “could be violence” and “possibly even threats”, that they were “scared” because they had “heard rumors” and were “concerned for their safety.” An email sent to some state workers warned that there “could be rapists” at the rally.

The Main Event
The day of the rally, I did a liveblog which included Anne’s amazing photos from around and inside the Capitol. Republicans had their staffers fill seats in the gallery so that union supporters wouldn’t be able to watch them do their dirty work. They eventually locked down the Capitol so that they could conduct their business behind closed doors. People in the 15,000+ person crowd were pepper-sprayed including Democratic candidate for governor Mark Schauer.

In what was later discovered to be a staged event, an Americans for Prosperity tent was knocked down with the blame being put on “union thugs”. This orchestrated event became the main story of the day, just as was planned by those who did it including Fox News’ Steven Crowder who claimed to be attacked after inciting rally attendees. Crowder used Breitbart-style video editing to shape the narrative. My debunking of this staged event received national attention.

In the downing of the tent, “Hot Dog Guy” Clint Tarver had his hot dog cart overturned and claimed he was called racial slurs by “union thugs”. He later raised nearly $20,000 to replace $500 worth of equipment and became a celebrity on Fox News and other conservative media outlets. As it turns out, Tarver’s wife is Linda Lee Tarver, the Michigan Republican’s Ethnic Vice Chair of the Michigan Republican Party. She was a prominent speaker at the GOP’s opening of their African American outreach office in Detroit last week.

While all of this was going on outside, inside the Capitol building Republicans passed their bills with no hearings or public input.

The Aftermath
Later that evening, after the day’s events, Governor Snyder quietly signed the legislation that made Michigan a right to work state. There was no press covering it. There was no press conference. There was no signing ceremony. Just a behind-closed-doors signing of legislation that, in many ways, has galvanized union members in Michigan.

We later learned that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) had a role to play. The bill that was signed into law has language that is almost identical to model legislation put out by ALEC, a corporatist anti-union group that is helping to shape state laws around the country to help their corporate benefactors and harm unions.

We also learned that the corporatist front group Americans for Prosperity gave gas cards and free food and drinks to “protesters” that “volunteered” to come to Lansing.

Our coverage of the rally was picked up nationally be the New York Times news blog, Salon, Forbes, Little Green Footballs,, and

After the week ended, I wrote a piece reflecting on the earthquake that had hit our state. What I wrote then still applies today:

It’s bad enough that corporatist tea party Republicans that have taken over our state and shaped it into something completely unrecognizable. But they also attempted to distract the national conversation away from what they have done to organized labor and workers in Michigan, the birth place of labor unions in this country. Instead, they tried to take the dumbass behavior of a handful of frightened and angry workers and portray the thousands and thousands of caring, thoughtful Michiganders as if they were thugs and criminals.

Teachers. Construction workers. Government employees. Nurses. The men and women that build our cars, drive our trucks, serve our food, and clean our hotel rooms. Our family members, our neighbors, and our friends. The people that educate our children. The people that care for our aging parents and injured children. The people that make our water drinkable and that drive our city buses.

Our political opponents have demonized these people as if they were nothing more than street criminals, parasitically sucking the lifeblood from our state.

This week at Eclectablog, we pushed back against that false and offensive narrative and pulled back the curtain just a bit to show the hypocrisy, greed and deceit being displayed by the anti-union forces allied against us.

I’m proud of that.

So, to my union brothers and sisters, I say this: I will continue to fight for your rights and for your rightful place in society. Never, ever let the bastards get you down and never compromise your values.

The battle is never completely won, of course.

But neither is it ever completely lost.


As we look back a year ago to the rally and the events surrounding it, it’s worth also looking ahead. In eleven short months, on Election Day 2014, we’ll have the opportunity to weigh in on what happened on November 11, 2013 when we vote. Between now and then, we should all be doing whatever we can to prepare to get the vote out on November 4th, 2014. It’s not too early to begin organizing and I hope that everyone who cares about our state and is outraged by what Republicans have done to it will get involved. We simply cannot allow the complacency that happened in 2010 to happen again. If Republicans aren’t stopped, Michigan may be under their control for decades to come.

Get involved.