Working families oust Altmire in primary

The national media focused Tuesday night on the duller-than-ever Romney “victories” in the low turnout GOP primaries, but missed the exciting shot heard in every corporate boardroom in America fired by Western Pennsylvania working families.

Workers and their allies showed that boots on the ground can trample even the best-funded pro-corporate SuperPAC 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 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.”

The big issue in the campaign against Altmire was his decision to vote against the health care reform law backed by President Obama. Altmire sided with Republicans, saying it would be too expensive and that it would add to the deficit.

The Steelworkers countered by saying the National Health Care Avt was a big step forward and that eventually even more had to be done. The union said that Medicare for All was the long term solution.

The labor movement was angry too because Altmire voted against job creation programs proposed by both fellow Democrats and the Obama administration and he backed Republican efforts in Congress to curb the enforcement powers of both the National Labor Relations Board and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The USW and a host of other unions put together a campaign low on funds but high in the number of volunteers and showed Almire what can happen to lawmakers who double cross working families.

“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,” Gerard said.

When Critz entered the race he trailed Altmire by 24 points and just before election night he was behind by as much as 7 points in the polls.

“Labor and community allies ran an experienced, smart grassroots field program with shoe leather and sheer determination,” Gerard said.

Unions hope to repeat the kind of operation they ran for Critz in districts 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 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.

Photo: Mark Critz. SalatCalU // CC 2.0


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.