Less than thirty miles southeast of Flint, Michigan, Tea Party activists gathered in Clarkston on September 21 to undo the gains of the 1937 sit down strike that won union recognition at General Motors.
The Independent Tea Party Patriots of Clarkston (ITPP) and the North Oakland County Tea Party Patriots sponsored the event, which was billed as a “Freedom to Work Educational Meeting.” About 100 attendees heard from state legislators, a disaffected UAW member, and Kevin Chase and Tim Voss from the Independent Tea Party Patriots.
State Representative Mike Shirkey noted that the anti-union Freedom to Work campaign “is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Tea Party activists will have to dig in and put pressure on shaky legislators in their districts, he said. State Senator Pat Colbeck pointed to what he perceived was the advantageous climate for anti-union crusaders in Michigan today. “Now is the time to push this over the hill,” he said. Previous attempts to pass right to work have failed.
Michigan Freedom to Work, a statewide pro-business, anti-labor organization, has attracted several Tea Party activists to its ranks, including Terry Bowman, an assembly line worker at the Rawsonville Ford Plant in Ypsilanti. A member of the Rattle With Us Tea Party and founder of an organization called Union Conservatives, Bowman has been touring Michigan this summer. He was the main speaker at the Clarkston meeting, and presented the standard economic argument for right to work. He also argued that the “social justice agenda” of the labor movement is out of step with the views of union members like him. “When [UAW president] Bob King gets up and talks about social and economic justice,” said Bowman, “or when he goes to Washington DC on October 2 at the [NAACP sponsored-ed] One Nation rally, my union dues go to pay for his salary.”
The newly formed “Michigan Freedom to Work coalition” has been gathering support since at least April. One early recruiting email to members of the Tea Party of West Michigan sought out union members and others to be trained as “public spokesmen” for right to work legislation. Others sent out calls to contact local politicians in support of right to work. Local Tea Party chapters have been instrumental to this effort.
From the other side of the issue, about twenty five union members from the We Are the People coalition protested outside the Tea Party meeting, holding signs with slogans like “Right to Work is Wrong for Michigan.” And that organization is pushing back against right to work attempts.