Worker’s Correspondence

Dave Herbert, longtime member of the Oklahoma Senate, a Democrat, should have talked to the delegations of union people who came to his office in February 2001, after he introduced anti-union legislation that led to “Right to Work/scab” status. One of the unionists who came to talk to Herbert was an electrician named Joe Smith.

Smith was only 32 years old, had never been in the state capital before, and hadn’t even voted recently. But he knew that his union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, would be seriously damaged if Oklahoma prohibited union contracts that required the people who directly benefit from unions to pay their fair share of the cost. Joe is a third-generation IBEW stalwart.

Senator Herbert snubbed the union lobbyists. They hadn’t expected much more. Democrats have controlled both houses of the state legislature for many years. In every session, right-wing forces tried to get a “right to work/scab” bill through, but unionists and their allies had always held successful rallies against it.

Herbert’s legislation was different. It allowed the legislature to duck the issue by putting “right to work/scab” up for a general vote in the fall of 2001. Labor and its allies mobilized from all over Oklahoma and the contiguous states. Smith, an Assistant Business Manager of IBEW Local 1141 in Midwest City, took a leadership role.

Joe and the others fighting for workers’ rights were opposed by big money, every Chamber of Commerce in the state, and the dominating Gaylord family, which owns the Daily Oklahoman and many other media outlets. Even so, unionists maintained their confidence until the developments of Sept. 11. After the tragedy in New York, the Oklahoma governor and other anti-union spokespersons released statements associating an anti-union vote with “patriotic duty!”

“Right to Work/scab” won the vote in Oklahoma on Sept. 25, 2001. Yet, the political fallout continues today.

One important part of the political shift in Oklahoma took place in Dave Herbert’s State Senate district. Young Joe Smith decided to take him on. Unionists and other friends rallied to help Joe win an upset victory by a 400-vote margin. On Nov. 5, Smith looks forward to vanquishing his Republican opponent, then putting his anti-union predecessor out of the capitol building, where he can do no further harm.

Former Senator Dave Herbert might then have time to contemplate the motto that Oklahoma adopted at statehood in 1907: omnia vincit labor. Labor conquers all.

– Jim Lane