The Labor Movement Turned Lemons Into Lemonade

If there’s one lesson labor can draw from the events of 2017, it’s this — to survive and grow in the face of a nationally coordinated employer offensive, we’ll have to use the attacks against us as organizing opportunities.

Everywhere you look workers are either on the defensive or just plain getting crushed. Take anti-union “right-to-work” laws, which weaken union strength and budgets by giving workers covered by union contracts a short-term financial incentive to opt out of membership. Since Kentucky fell in January, the entire South is right-to-work.

Such laws cover much of the Midwest and West too, a total of 27 states. A February law put Missouri on track to become number 28 — until unionists blocked it from going into effect by collecting an astounding 310,567 signatures for repeal. The question will appear before voters on the November 2018 ballot.

The silver lining of that attack was the dose of energy union members got by fighting it off. “It’s already changed the local,” reported Robert W. Shuler II, a forge operator and president of IUE-CWA Local 86821 in Centralia, Missouri. “We have more attendance at meetings. People are asking about stuff to do. Something like this gives people hope.”

Look to Iowa for another example. An awful law passed in February — the state’s own version of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s notorious anti-union Act 10 — defangs public sector collective bargaining and requires unions to win a reauthorization vote every contract cycle.

But unlike in Wisconsin, where the law has decimated public sector membership, Iowa unions so far are gamely clearing the hurdles. This fall saw the first two rounds of elections, where 462 of 494 affected locals won their recertification votes; 29,552 people voted to stay union, and 651 against.

What it took was shoe leather: members coordinating their efforts to talk to each co-worker and track who’d been reached. Some schools got 100 percent of teachers to vote. A mobilization on this scale is no…

Read more