The ballot box, both before and during the development of the modern trade union movement, gave some voice to the neglected members of our society. As voting rights gradually included non-property owners, former slaves, women, immigrants and younger adults, the disenfranchised slowly gained incremental rights. But the entrenched powers and the robber barons of the Gilded Age mounted obstacles and hurdles to frustrate the ability of working and poor people to vote. Even though they were on the wrong side of history, it required continued progressive surges to dislodge some of that power.
Overcoming Jim Crow segregationist obstacles to voting rights for all residents in the South eventually became part of organized labor’s goals. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 owed as much to the bargaining table as to the ballots that elected pro-labor progressives of both political parties.
The sweep of the Tea Party and allied movements’ control of state legislatures in 2010 began the unprecedented move to restrict voter rights based on the myth that there was widespread voter fraud. Study after study has dispelled that as false and the courts have recognized the restrictive laws for what they really are: attempts to once again limit voting access to poor and minority voters. Courts recently overturned these naked attempts in North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.
Collective bargaining went hand in hand with those political gains. Bread and Roses strikes, legislation limiting exploitive work hours for women and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in which shop girls needlessly died were companions to the constitutional amendment guaranteeing the vote to women.
The same states that went after voting rights went after collective-bargaining rights, as did the legislatures in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere. Some rulings have been overturned by referendums and court actions. Some are still in effect.
Today both the ballot box and the bargaining table are under the kinds of vicious attacks not seen for decades.
This election year has put the spotlight on the power the great wealth of individuals and corporations is wielding to win local and national elections across the country: the Supreme Court Citizens United ruling has put undreamed of amounts of money back in the driver’s seat of our electoral process. The very issues we thought we had fought for and won are coming undone.
The bad guys never go away. So we must continue to be vigilant.
It’s clear that ballots — voting rights and voter access — are very much a part of this year’s election, but how about collective bargaining as an issue?
We have to ask ourselves: Which major party candidate would be labor friendly and which would be antagonistic? Which would make better appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and the Supreme Court (think Friedrich’s case)? Which would encourage labor’s organizing efforts? Which would use the veto power if necessary to block anti-labor legislation? Which would welcome labor representatives to the halls of power?
The American Federation of Teachers has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. She’s the candidate we believe would be a good friend to both ballots and bargaining for working people and for all Americans.