LANSING — UAW members in neon green vests patrolled crowds inside and outside the state Capitol here, but it didn't stop violence and vandalism.
"No, we don't want anyone fighting," a union member in a green vest shouted to a group of angry protestors approaching a small group of right-to-work supporters gathered on the steps of the Capitol. "Everyone stay cool."
His plea went unanswered as about eight men wearing hats and coats with the logos of the UAW, Sheet Metal workers, Steelworkers, and other unions, pushed onto a platform on the stairs and shoved people back about three feet. The surge lasted for a few minutes and was one of a couple of such pushes that occured on Thursday.
Union members from Michigan and nearby states were protesting Gov. Rick Snyder's decision to push for right-to-work legislation that lets workers decide if they want to pay to be represented by a union.
The brief episodes of violence on the stairs began after Scott Hagerstrom, the state director of Americans For Prosperity, turned on a recording of speeches from Ronald Reagan.
Americans For Prosperity was one of two groups that had tents on the Captiol lawn and set up a podium and speaker system on the stairs. AFP's setup was later deluged by union members who pointed fingers and chanted at right-to-work supporters before physically pushing them.
The protestors also tore down a sign hanging across the Capitol steps that read, www.moremijobs.com, and had been hung by right-to-work supporters. A man wearing a black jacket with a union logo grabbed the banner and tried to tear it into pieces. After a few rips, he was handed a pocket knife and then cut a portion of the banner off.
The union supporters chanted, "No one in, no one out!" and "Who's house? Our house!" They were preventing people from entering and legislators from exiting.
There were also fierce debates between supporters and opponents of the legislation – with union workers on both sides.
Inside the Capitol, a few hundred protesters chanted, blew whistles and plotted how to storm the House and Senate chambers.
Their efforts to break onto the legislative floor were thwarted by State Troopers who stood three-deep in front of the doors. Eventually, more troopers had to be called in.
That didn't completely prevent trouble, however. At least eight people have been arrested and the police have been forced to use mace on some anti-RTW protestors.