DETROIT - The sun smiled as Detroit's workers showed their spirit in the city's famous Labor Day march on Monday. Vice President Joe Biden electrified the crowd, Michigan's two largest teachers unions marched as one, and for the first time many could remember, Detroit's police officers marched in the parade. Perhaps adding to the jubilant mood, the Detroit Tigers had just completed a sweep of the Chicago White Sox to tie up the American League Central division.
Good weather and baseball aside, Michigan's working families know they are in the fight of their lives. The state's Republican legislature is introducing bill after bill that curtails workers' right to bargain collectively.
"This election we have a choice," said Stacie Steward, an autoworker at Chrysler's Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, addressing the downtown rally after the parade. "We can stand up for collective bargaining and working families or we can allow corporate special interests to eliminate our voices and our jobs,"
"Stand up and join up," she urged the crowd, calling on them to get active supporting the Nov. 6 voter initiative that would amend the state constitution to protect collective bargaining rights in Michigan.
That message was repeated by University of Michigan Hospital nurse Mary Ann Beauchamp, who pointed out that collective bargaining is good for patients too. "Collective bargaining gives us the protection, training and staffing we need to save lives," she said.
Vice President Biden drew cheers as he emphasized the dangers workers face from Republicans. "They don't believe in your very right to bargain" said Biden. He quoted Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney backing union-busting "right to work" laws: "'Right to work' is the way to go. I'd like to see it on a national level as well."
Biden responded, "These guys don't get it. Right-to-work means the right to work for less." Speaking for the Obama administration, he declared, "Ladies and gentleman, that will not happen as long as we are here. It will not happen!"
To loud cheers and chants of "Four more years," Biden roared, "We're for Medicare, they're for voucher care."
Biden also criticized Romney's tax proposals, saying they will increase the deficit and result in families with children paying $2,000 a year more in taxes.
Referring to Romney's opposition to bailing out the auto industry, proclaimed in his 2008 "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" op-ed in the New York Times, Biden said, "You can't say you are gong to create jobs in America when you are willing to let one million jobs go under."
Photo: Firefighters assemble for Detroit Labor Day March. April Smith/PW