Texas Dems, AFL-CIO’s Trumka link voting and workers’ rights
Texas State Rep. Chris Turner, leader of the Texas Democrats, speaks outside AFL-CIO headquarters after talking with union leaders about voter suppression in the Lone Star State. The group left the GOP-dominated legislature in Austin for Washington—thus denying the right-wing GOPers the quorum they needed for their voter suppression law. They linked attacks on voting rights with attacks on workers’ rights, and campaigned to outlaw the filibuster, which would let both the For the People Act (voting rights and political reform) and the PRO Act (workers’ rights) pass the Senate. | AFL-CIO via Press Associates Photo Service

WASHINGTON—Citing civil rights leaders the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and a delegation of Texas state Democratic lawmakers—who left Austin for D.C. to halt a draconian Texas GOP voter repression law—inextricably linked voting rights with worker rights.

In an outdoor press conference at AFL-CIO headquarters, located just blocks from the White House on the now-renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza, the lawmakers and union leaders said those causes are one and the same. Trumka pledged a joint crusade for both.

And they made the point that the solution to attacks on voting rights and workers’ rights rests in legislation pending on Capitol Hill, specifically S1, the comprehensive election and voting reform For The People Act, and the worker-backed Protect The Right To Organize (PRO) Act, the most-pro-worker labor law rewrite since 1935.

But both are held hostage to a right-wing GOP senatorial filibuster, and the Texans also carried the message—as did Trumka—that it’s time to break that, too.

“It’s time for the Senate to be courageous and lead the way for the PRO Act and S1 and the rest of the Workers First Agenda,” Trumka declared. He also identified the foes.

“Those attacking voting and those attacking unions are one and the same, what Dr. King called ‘A twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.’”

“These are the founding fathers of January 6,” Trumka added, referring to the Trumpite insurrection and invasion of the U.S. Capitol in a coup d’état attempt to keep their Leader, Donald Trump, in the Oval Office, overthrowing the 2020 election of Democrat Joe Biden.

Those same interests also produce “massive inequality of income, opportunity and power. And the purging of voter rolls,” Trumka declared.

“We are going to fight them together. On every single front. With everything we have. Democracy is not promised. It has to be protected when it’s threatened. It has to be perfected so it can be passed onto the next generation.”

The Texans sounded the same theme, as did other speakers, including AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, AFSCME President Lee Saunders and Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“In our House” of labor, “Voting rights and labor rights are one. Economic justice and racial justice go hand-in-hand,” said Shuler. “We see a fundamental assault against democracy—the workers’ right to vote at workplaces” for unionizing “and their right to vote at the ballot box.”

“If you don’t vote, you don’t count” in the eyes of the right-wingers from coast to coast, Henderson

warned. And the point of the rightists’ 400-odd anti-voter bills in 48 states, analysts point out, is to ensure Black and brown people not only don’t vote, but can’t vote. Thus the rightists stay in power, able to impose their nativist and corporate agenda on everyone else.

Those Texas state reps brought the issue, and the linkage, to the fore.

That’s because the repressive right-wing GOPers who control the Texas House were poised to pass two massive anti-Black, anti-brown, anti-disabled, anti-minority voter repression bills They also planned a tough anti-abortion bill—banning the procedure once there’s a fetal heartbeat—and an anti-LGBTQ “bathroom bill,” among other oppressive measures.

But the Texas Republicans, who are also virulently anti-worker,  needed three-fourths of state reps present for their month-long special session to bulldoze their radical right agenda through. So when the 51 Democrats left, the GOP lost its quorum. The Democrats plan to stay in D.C. and everywhere else but Texas until the mandatory end of that conclave in early August.

Meanwhile, the Democrats’ allies plan to take their campaign on the road, including a July 17 memorial vigil in D.C., and 100 other vigils nationwide that night, for both causes. And the AFL-CIO wants state and local affiliates to conduct an intense door-to-door on-the-ground drive for the PRO Act from July 17-23.

“I care deeply about civil rights and workers’ rights,” said the Texans’ leader, Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, adding his colleagues agree. “So to stand in front of the AFL-CIO at Black Lives Matter Plaza is very special. We are determined to defeat voter suppression in the state of Texas.”

The Texans, like Trumka, reminded the crowd and the press that the same interests which hate voting rights hate workers’ rights, just as Dr. King said, more than 60 years ago.

“We also need the PRO (Protect The Right To Organize) Act, and the right to organize unfettered by the nonsense state and local governments and private industry are pushing down our throats,” Turner said. “We need workers to be able to raise their voices without fear of reprisal.”

Turner, like Trumka, invoked Lewis, the civil rights icon who died just a year ago. Lewis’s last public appearance, just days before he died, was at the plaza during a Black Lives Matter march.

But the summing up of the threat from the right to both voting rights and workers’ rights came from Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

“If they take your voting rights today, what will they take tomorrow?”


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.