While the national media focused Tuesday night on the duller-than-ever Romney “victories” in the low turnout GOP primaries, the workers of Western Pennsylvania fired a shot heard in every corporate boardroom in America.

Workers and their allies showed that boots on the ground can trample even the best funded pro-corporate Super Pac operations when they propelled Democratic state representative Mark Critz to victory over his opponent, Jason Altmire.

The 12th Congressional District in Pennsylvania saw two incumbents, Critz and Altmire, battle it out for the Democratic nomination for Congress. The new lines were drawn by a Republican legislature determined to get rid of a Democratic seat and, at the same time, hold onto a seat for a blue dog Democrat, Altmire, who usually voted with Republicans.

Altmire actually won his first term largely because of the support from unions who worked hard for his election.

Once in office, however, he double-crossed the workers who backed him by voting against health care reform. United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said of Altmire: “He broke his word by his conservative voting record that put him on the side of the opposing political party more often than on the side of working families.”

Breathing life into the old maxim, “the payback is a bitch,” the USW and a host of other unions put together a campaign low on funds but high in the number of boots on the ground and showed Almire what can happen to lawmakers who double cross workers.

“One by one we persuaded voters and helped motivate a solid turnout to overcome the advantages in the re-drawn district that was thought to belong to Altmire,” said Gerard.

When Critz entered the race he trailed Altmire by 24 points in the polls and just before election night he was behind by as much as 7 points in those same polls. “We and our labor and community allies ran an experienced, smart grassroots field program with shoe leather and sheer determination,” said Gerard.

The operation labor ran for Critz is one unions hope to repeat in districts all across the country this year. It involved bringing information about the campaign into worksites, the establishment of union-run phone banks independent of any political party operation, and  “labor walks” through various neighborhoods.

The USW alone, says it had 400 members participating in the campaign on a regular basis.

Steelworkers tally sheets show that union members knocked on 5,211 doors the night before and the day of the election.

In an election night tweet, Critz wrote: Thank you Steelworkers, SEIU, AFL-CIO and all of labor! I couldn’t have done it without you!”

“Working people showed the strength of their voice in Pennsylvania’s 12th district last night, a model for the path ahead,” tweeted AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.