MO AFL-CIO Convention: Focus on elections and ballot initiatives

KANSAS CITY, Mo – “There couldn’t be a clearer choice. The up-coming November elections are about two very different and distinct paths for our country,” Randy Kiser, mid-west AFL-CIO field representative, told the People’s World during a break here at the Missouri AFL-CIO Biennial Convention on September 10.

Kiser continued, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, “wants to close factories and ship jobs overseas. President Obama wants to give workers a voice on the job. The difference doesn’t get much clearer than that.”

While discussion of the up-coming presidential elections was front-and-center, Kiser also talked about Missouri politics, including the hotly contested U.S. Senate campaign between right-wing republican candidate, Todd Akin, and democratic incumbent, Clair McCaskill.

Kiser said, “Akin is an extremist, a polarizing figure. He is wrong on all of the issues.”

On the other-hand, Clair McCaskill supports workers’ rights to form and join a union, raising the minimum wage, making corporations pay their fair share in taxes, and she is solidly pro-choice.

“She’s the exact opposite of Todd Akin,” Kiser added.

Kansas City Mayor, Sylvester ‘Sly’ James, welcomed the 200-plus delegates and guests, and said, “We need to be about the business of putting people back to work. At the end of the day, all of this is about putting people back to work.”

He called republican obstructionists – those who have blocked job creation legislation, infrastructure development programs and other economic stimulus measures – “rouge, extreme elements.”

He said they are “CAVE-MEN – Citizens against virtually everything!”

James shared Kiser’s opinion of Mitt Romney, and added, “This will be a vastly different country if Romney gets elected. He has absolutely no regard for the people in this room, people like us.”

“He will do absolutely nothing for women, minorities or labor. He is an extremist. He will drag us below the surface and drown us in non-sense.”

Convention planners were also mindful of recognizing moderate republicans, like Congresswomen Jo Ann Emerson, who has repeatedly stood-up against so-called ‘Right-to-Work’ legislation and in support of prevailing wage.

Emerson told the Convention delegates and guests that “25 percent of my constituents are union members, union households or union retirees. And I cannot ignore one-fourth of my constituency.”

Emerson’s District consists of 29 different, mostly rural counties in south and southwest Missouri. It is also the home of over 90 percent of all U.S. lead mining.

She said, “I deal with people on a daily basis who do not believe in compromise. But I believe in putting myself in the shoes of people I might disagree with. We’ve got to put politics aside and work together to move our economy forward.”

Lara Granich, executive director of Missouri Jobs with Justice, talked with the assembled union leaders and activists about two ballot initiative campaigns: to raise Missouri’s minimum wage and cap pay-day loan interest rates. Unfortunately, the initiatives did not qualify for the November ballot. The MO AFL-CIO had been one of the campaign’s strongest supporters.

She said, the coalitions that collected over 350,000 petition signatures “overcame incredible obstacles – intimidation, millions in lawsuits, dirty and violent tricks, and even the theft of signatures.”

“They not only challenged our signatures, but the entire ballot initiative process. They threatened to drop a nuclear bomb on the ballot process.”

The current Missouri minimum wage is $7.25 an-hour and the average payday loan interest rate is 450 percent. If they had been successful, the ballot initiatives would have raised the minimum wage to $8.25 an-hour and capped payday loan interest rates at 36 percent.

Despite the temporary setback, Granich was optimistic. She said, “Out of this process we’ve built a movement strong enough to sustain us through all of the fights ahead. We engaged workers in the community, on the campuses and in the congregations. We’re building power for the fights that are coming.”

Joe Feldman, a leader in the Sheet Metal Workers’ Union Local 36, told the People’s World, “I’ve been out of work for four months now. I’ve got two kids. I’ve wiped out my savings. Mitt Romney is out of touch with what’s going on. He doesn’t understand what’s happening to the average American.”

Missouri State Treasurer and Teamster, Clint Zweifel, said, “The labor movement is the foundation of this country. We can make a difference. Member to member contact matters more than you can imagine.”

As the day’s proceedings were drawing to a close, convention delegates volunteered on labor-to-labor canvasses to educate and identify union voters for Clair McCaskill in Kansas City.

Missouri AFL-CIO president, Hugh McVey, summed things up when he told the Convention, “Talk to your families and friends. Talk with your co-workers. Even get into an argument with that crazy uncle you usually avoid. We have to talk to everybody we can between now and November if we’re going to win.”

Photo: Union workers gather at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo., March 27 to protest against so called “Right To Work” legislation. Julie Smith /The Jefferson City News-Tribune/AP



Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the president of the St. Louis Workers' Education Society (WES), a 501c3 non-profit organization chartered by the St. Louis Central Labor Council as a Workers Center. His articles have been published in the St. Louis Labor Tribune, Alternet, Shelterforce, Political Affairs, and Z-Magazine, among other publications. He is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA," and is available to speak at your community center, union hall or campus.