On July 26, in response to the call of the World socialist website for nurses at Michigan Medicine to go on strike to meet their demands, a reader with the username “Union Nurse” posted the following comment:
“Apparently WSWS is unaware of Michigan labor laws that prohibit public sector workers from going on strike. Not surprising given their clear anti-union stance.”
Below you will find our answer.
Nurses’ right to strike at Michigan Medicine is an important issue and has been addressed in several recent WSWS articles, including our report on the contract expiration on June 30 and our report ahead of the July 16 rally and informational picket organized by the union , the Michigan Nurses Association and its local affiliate, the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council (MNA-UMPNC).
Both the Hutchinson Act of 1947 and the Public Employment Relations Act of 1965 declared strikes by civil servants in Michigan illegal. However, these laws have never stopped officials from going on strike. According to a survey, on November 25, 1988, there were 820 public sector strikes in Michigan in the past 23 years, 80 percent of which were by university and public school teachers.
Even under these laws, as the MNA-UMPNC has pointed out, the nurses can legally strike if their action is considered a response to unfair labor practices by Michigan Medicine. While there’s no question that Michigan Medicine deals with unfair labor practices — for example, the union has reported that more than 800 Assignment Despite Objection (ADO) complaints filed by nurses remain unresolved — the MNA-UMPNC has refused to even strike a vote.
The right to strike — the most powerful weapon Michigan Medicine nurses have to win their demand for an end to staff shortages and unbearable working conditions — raises fundamental political questions. If nurses went on strike and the state tried to enforce the laws on the books, who would be responsible for enforcing the anti-strike law? It would be the Democratic Party board of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, that is, the same politicians the MNA-UMPNC supports in the upcoming election in November.
In 1981 and 1989, nurses at the University of Michigan medical facilities ignored the no-strike laws and ran away to fight for their demands. In July 1989, more than 1,700 registered nurses at the University of Michigan Hospital went on strike for 13 days before a court order was issued to end the strike. Significantly, the 1989 strike addressed the same issues nurses face today: understaffing, shift assignment and rotation, weekend scheduling, and mandatory overtime. At the time, Democrat James Blanchard was the governor of Michigan, overseeing the strike.
In 2018, nurses at the University of Michigan Health System voted overwhelmingly in favor of strike action, although the MNA-UMPNC has never declared a strike. In both 1989 and 2018, unions blocked nurses from uniting in a common struggle with other hospital workers and wider sections of the working class. New concessions were eventually made, and this betrayal contributed to the excruciating conditions prevailing at the hospital today.
The argument that nurses have no right to strike is being pressured by the MNA-UMPNC to avoid mass action and direct confrontation by the nurses with Michigan Medicine management, the University of Michigan Board of Regents and the state government in Lansing. Preventing a strike is part of the MNA-UMPNC’s strategy to maintain its cozy relationship with the Democratic Party and the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. The union bureaucracy in Michigan is now doing everything possible to avoid a confrontation before the November 10 general election.
Finally, the WSWS’s stance on Michigan Medicine nurses’ contract struggles — as well as any union workers’ struggles — is not “anti-union.” We are not against unions. We are against the pro-corporate organizations, unions in name only, which control the union bureaucracies.
These official labor organizations have been transformed into an apparatus of irresponsible bureaucrats who serve as industrial police for the business elite to suppress the struggles of the workers. In return they get a share of the profits from the exploitation of the workers. They do not represent the interests of membership.
The union bureaucrats collect dues from workers’ paychecks and use the money to fund their inflated salaries and make financial contributions to their friends in the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, workers’ previous gains in wages, benefits and working conditions, which took decades of struggle to win, have been negotiated away by unions in one concession deal after another.
It is imperative that nurses take matters into their own hands, call a strike vote, draw up a list of demands and set a deadline for a strike if these demands are not met. Such a move by 6,200 nurses will encourage the rest of the hospital staff — support staff, doctors and others — to get behind them, along with the University of Michigan students, faculty and staff.
As we insisted during Michigan Medicine’s contract war, moving forward requires the formation of a grassroots nurses committee democratically elected and connected to the growing movement of workers in every industry to go on the offensive and support the favorable trend of the past four decades.
Such committees are being established among health professionals, auto workers, educators, retail and logistics workers in Michigan, nationwide, and internationally.
The Newsletter for WSWS health professionals will do everything in our power to assist the Michigan Medicine nurses in forming a regular committee. Michigan Medicine nurses and health professionals can contact us here.
As demonstrated by the Democratic Party’s role in enforcing anti-democratic laws that strip the right to strike from Michigan Medicine and public sector workers, the development of a network of ordinary committees must be accompanied by a new political strategy – a break with both. big business parties and building an independent political movement of the working class.
We urge nurses and supporters to follow the campaign of Will Lehman, a socialist running for president of the UAW. Will Lehman does not want to reform the leadership of the UAW, but organize a grassroots movement that will abolish the pro-corporate union bureaucracy and mobilize workers to fight for better wages, benefits and working conditions in the factories. This campaign shows that the way forward for workers in every industry and every trade union is the building of a new leadership in the working class that is against the entire capitalist system, the source of all attacks on workers and for socialism.