Organized labor; our sanity depends on it

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Labor Day Parade, Union Square, New York, 1882 (Lithographie)
Wikimedia Commons

Across the country, Democratic candidates ran on much more progressive platforms this year as compared to the last three election cycles, according to an analysis of candidates for the U.S. House and Senate by the group Data for Progress.

The percentage of candidates who endorsed Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All (single-payer) or a Medicare buy-in went from 27 percent in 2010 to 58 percent this election cycle.

Growing nationwide alarm over health care costs and access — especially for people with pre-existing conditions —made health care the leading issue for voters. In the red states of Nebraska, Idaho and Utah, voters approved expanding Medicaid coverage.

National Nurses United (NNU) is a leading voice for Medicare for All. NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN, said her union will work with the growing House Medicare for All caucus to press for legislative action, while also continuing to build the grassroots movement for it.

Castillo also celebrated the passage of several progressive ballot measures, such as votes in Arkansas and Missouri to raise the minimum wage. Most significant was the passage of Amendment 4 in Florida, which will restore voting rights to about 1.5 million formerly incarcerated people, she said.

Nevertheless, Castillo warned about the dangers to democracy posed by the demagogic incitement of racism and anti-Semitism as well as the many cases of voter suppression. She stressed the urgency of continuing to “build a broad movement for the transformative social change we need on issues that unite people, from health care to environmental protections to voting rights and confront the enormous powerful interests who dominate our economic and political system.”

The labor movement played an important role in the Democratic Party blue wave. The AFL-CIO reported its effort included 2.35 million door knocks, 5 million worksite flyers, more than 12 million mail pieces, 260,094 text messages and 69 million “impressions on social media.”

Some 800 union members (and counting) won public office across the nation. Tim Walz, a former history teacher at Mankato High School, will become Minnesota’s governor. In Connecticut, Jahana Hayes, a Waterbury social science teacher and 2016 National Teacher of the Year, won an open 5th Congressional District seat on a progressive platform — including Medicare for All and $15 minimum wage — after defeating the establishment candidate in the Democratic primary.

Then there’s the sweet news from Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Those three Democratic-leaning Great Lakes states helped Trump win the presidency in the Electoral College in 2016 by 77,744 votes. Meanwhile, Trump lost in the national popular vote by about 3 million.

In 2018, the Democrats won big in the three states. The defeat of Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, was joyously celebrated by about 100 people at the rotunda of the Capitol in Madison. They formed a circle for what was literally the 1,999th gathering of the “Solidarity Sing Along,” an hour-long, informal event held every Monday through Friday at noon.

John Nichols, the national-affairs correspondent for The Nation, describes Walker as “the anti-labor zealot who in many senses initiated the scorched-earth ‘divide-and-conquer’ politics that Trump took national in 2016.”

Walker was elected in 2010 and immediately upon taking office, he introduced Act 10, which basically destroyed collective bargaining for public sector workers, banned dues deduction, and forced unions to recertify every year. Under his lead, the state went “right to work” in both the public and private sectors, and union membership dropped 40 percent.

In February 2011, there was a non-violent uprising with massive marches and civil disobedience that attracted worldwide attention. A recall effort was launched but failed. Walker ran for president in 2016 and compared teachers to “terrorists.” He became good buddies with Trump. This year, he was running for re-election. Trump campaigned for him and said that Walker’s Democratic opponent, former school teacher Tony Evers, wanted “illegal aliens to flood Wisconsin.” Walker mimicked Trump’s attacks on immigrants in a very expensive and nasty campaign.

Now Walker is gone. But we can’t be complacent. The Republicans are an explicitly anti-union party Unfortunately, too many Democrats are tepid in their support of unions and working people.

Decades ago, Democrats and Republicans would compete with each other for the support of unions and their members. In the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt observed: “It is now beyond partisan controversy that it is a fundamental individual right of a worker to associate himself with other workers and to bargain collectively with his employer.”

That was before big business declared war on unions decades ago. Now one out of 10 Americans is a union member. That should concern everyone. Because numerous studies show that unions reduce inequality in society and strengthen democracy by giving the working class majority a voice in policy debates.

Union members receive higher wages and better benefits than the unorganized. A union contract provides great job security and you have protection from arbitrary dismissal. You have a sense of empowerment because you have a say in how your workplace is managed. You are actually happier and are more productive at work. You are more sane. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a more sane society?

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.