Thousands at Michigan Capitol: We are the people

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LANSING, Mich. - Thousands of workers from across the state rallied here today with a message for the Republican-controlled legislature: "We are the people - protect us, not the CEOs."

A woman wearing a black Grim Reaper costume, complete with mask and long scythe, stood on the front lawn of the Capitol this morning as the crowd gathered. Behind her were tombstones labeled "Here lies workers' rights" and "Here lies the middle class."

She spoke about family members who are unemployed, and her 83-year-old father, who will all suffer under Gov. Rick Snyder's budget now being debated by the lawmakers inside the Capitol.

"We need to recall Rick," she said.

Around her, a growing sea of signs, banners and colorful T-shirts expressed the wide anger among Michigan workers over Snyder's budget and a barrage of anti-worker measures now before the legislature.

The governor's budget gives a $1.8 billion tax cut to big corporations and pays for it by cutting revenue sharing to cities, slicing hundreds of millions of dollars from education, and raising taxes on working class families and retirees.

The Republicans are also seeking to undermine unions and wage standards in Michigan through a "right to work" measure and by ending the requirement that employers on state contracts to pay prevailing wages,

A key bill would allow the governor to appoint dictator-like "emergency financial managers" to run as many as 150 Michigan cities or school systems that are in financial distress. These "EFMs" would replace local elected officials, would have total power over all finances and could void union contracts and other worker-protection measures.

Another bill would introduce Arizona-style racial profiling in law enforcement.

The Republicans even have a bill that would prevent unions from using public libraries for "organizing or political purposes."

In response, a cross-section of the people's movement poured into the Capitol grounds today: building trades workers of every kind, teachers, community people, environmentalists, immigrant rights activists, retirees, graduate student employees, parents and children.

Huge contingents of United Auto Workers and AFSCME members were joined by members of the Service Employees, Michigan Education Asssociation, Laborers and others. A big contingent of Laborers from Pontiac wore bright orange T-shirts reading, "Feel the Power." Teachers joined with plumbers, university workers and insulation-installers, carrying signs saying "Stop the attack on the middle class."

Cheers rang out as a roll call of unions present was read out. The state AFL-CIO provided thousands of hot dogs and water for participants.

The mayor of Lansing, Virg Bernero, drew big cheers and laughter when he told the rally, "I welcome you to the state Capitol. Stay as long as you like."

And indeed this was not a "quickie" event. The rally itself was scheduled in two waves lasting into the early evening. In between, participants headed into the building to lobby their senators and representatives.

Bernero, who ran a spirited campaign against Snyder last fall, drew more cheers as he declared, "I have a message for Wall Street: It's not government of, by and for the rich, it's government of, by and for the people."

Herb Sanders, administrative director for AFSCME Council 25, told the crowd the 40 bills being pushed by this Republican administration "have been designed to eliminate 75 years of progress on behalf of working people."

As he listed some of the proposals - cuts of $500 million in primary education and $200 million in higher education, elimination of the state earned income credit for low-income people, taxing pensions - the crowd roared, "That's not right."

Expressing the wide anger over the anti-union angle of the emergency financial manager plan, Sanders said, "You and I know working people did not create this economic crisis. We refuse to relinquish our right to collectively bargain."

Speakers from the Sierra Club and Blue-Green Alliance, Alliance for Immigrant Rights, Michigan nurses and a range of others indicated the breadth of opposition to the Republican agenda.

It was the largest rally so far since Snyder announced his budget.

Photo: The orange T-shirts of Laborers Union members were prominent at the rally in Lansing, April 13. ProgressMich