WASHINGTON – With one year to go before the Nov. 2012 election, the key question for organized labor after this fall’s voting is: Can it build on the Ohio win?

If it can, and if it can keep the organization and enthusiasm going that brought labor a 61-39 percent landslide over GOP Gov. John Kasich’s scheme to destroy collective bargaining rights for all state and local government workers, then the outlook is good for labor’s political causes next year.

But the key word there is ‘if,’ and there’s another factor involved: Whether labor can successfully extend its impact, getting non-union voters – the overwhelming majority nationwide – energized to protect workers’ rights and the middle class.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka intends for the energy to continue. The Ohio vote “is neither a beginning nor an end, but a continuation” of a campaign “that will not end until America is once again a middle class country” he told a post-election press conference. Other unionists say the same thing.

Citing the old maxim that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” Cleveland resident Louise Forsman, a member of Working America, added: “A sinking tide – taking away collective bargaining – sinks all boats. And we don’t need any more holes in our boat.”

And CWA Vice President Seth Rosen said labor is “building a broad movement to fight for good jobs and strong communities, over many election days, not just one.”

But to keep the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment going, unionists and their allies also need a cause. In Ohio, it was the defeat of Kasich’s law that killed collective bargaining. In Arizona, it was a recall election that ousted the GOP state senate president who shoved through that state’s notorious anti-Hispanic anti-immigrant law. He lost to a moderate Republican who supports immigrant workers’ rights.

In Wisconsin, the energy appeared earlier this year when the state AFL-CIO led a drive to recall six GOP state senators who provided key votes for GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s kill-collective-bargaining law. Workers needed three ousters and got two, leaving Walker with a one-vote majority. The next recall target? Walker.

The right-wing-business scheme to strip workers of their rights and destroy the middle class nationwide may provide the spark needed elsewhere, too.

That, however, remains to be seen.

“The 99 percent who didn’t get rich while the rich wrecked the economy have decided to stand up and demand their fair share,” Trumka said. “Working people will fight hard for the middle class and the AFL-CIO will stand there with them.” Voters overall will be motivated, Trumka contended, “because they’re still looking for someone to come in and do something for Main Street, not for Wall Street.”

To take advantage of the motivation, and to keep people energized, Trumka reiterated that labor is redoing its political operation into a year-round structure, emphasizing issues, followed by accountability. But he didn’t give details.

Jason Perlman, Ohio AFL-CIO Communications Director, called the Ohio defeat of Kasich’s law “a victory in a non-partisan sense” as voters concentrated “on creating jobs” and not on the GOP’s agenda of destroying workers’ rights.

But labor won’t be the only motivated voters out on the hustings; activists predicted women and Latinos would join them. But the radical Right, pushed by hate of President Obama – for his policies and his race – will be there, too.

Discussing the ouster of the powerful Arizona legislator, Service Employees Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina – whose unionists ran phone banks and pounded pavements for the victor, as did the state AFL-CIO and the Communications Workers – said Latinos would be energized next year.

Once again, there’s a cause: Reaction against the anti-Hispanic immigrant bashing and veiled racism of the state and national GOP. Arizona’s ‘Exhibit A.’

“Latino voters cast ballots in large enough numbers to make the difference” in defeating the Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce in the recall, Medina said. “But what motivated them was not the party, but the issue” – Pearce’s authorship and outspoken advocacy of the anti-immigrant law, SB1070.

Medina predicted Latinos would keep their energy going next year, for the same reason. “Republicans who think they don’t need the votes of Latinos had better think again,” he said. Their votes, if energized and if turnout is massive, could swing Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, and possibly Texas and North Carolina, said another activist on that call, Frank Sherry of Voice for a Better America.

In Mississippi, another right-wing attack on rights galvanized women. The radical Right, led by extreme pro-lifers, pushed a state constitutional amendment to declare that life begins at fertilization. That would have outlawed not just abortion, but birth control and much else. With the Coalition of Labor Union Women helping women’s rights groups push back, Mississippi voters defeated the scheme.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.