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Empowering Workers: Worker Wins

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Despite the challenges of organizing during a deadly pandemic, working people across the country (and beyond) continue organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. This edition begins with:

Baltimore County Public Library Employees Vote Overwhelmingly to Join IAM: Workers at the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) had a special reason to celebrate this holiday season. It was announced last week that 460 full-time and part-time library workers voted 77% in favor of forming a union with the Machinists (IAM). The successful vote comes after years of organizing, which included the IAM winning a new state law allowing BCPL employees to collectively bargain. “This is so exciting for Baltimore County Public Library workers,” said Anita Bass, a BCPL circulation assistant III at the Essex branch. “This will empower the staff of BCPL to continue to do the important work of fulfilling BCPL’s mission and vision. We need a system in place to protect and support each other, and a legally binding contract will give us that. I believe in the BCPL mission, and I know the IAM will help us accomplish that mission.” “Baltimore County Public Library employees have always been a critical pillar to our community, and now especially during the pandemic,” said IAM Grand Lodge Representative Bridget Fitzgerald, lead organizer on the campaign. “I could not be more proud of these professionals for joining together and standing strong for what they deserve. This is a victory for them, their families and all of Baltimore County, which rightfully relies on a strong and inclusive library system.”

SHoP Architects Employees Vote to Join Machinists: Employees at SHoP Architects in New York are seeking to become the first private sector architectural workers to successfully organize since the 1940s. More than 130 eligible employees at the firm have signed cards in support of forming a union with the IAM. The firm is known for work on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the Steinway Tower south of Central Park, among others. Workers are seeking to reduce their workload and increase pay, after they reported working long hours for pay that doesn’t allow them to pay off the thousands of dollars of student debt those in their field often accumulate. The organizing committee has asked SHoP for voluntary recognition and wants to start a conversation with SHoP’s partners on how to address the challenges they face—and begin making positive changes. “Many of us feel pushed to the limits of our productivity and mental health,” the members of the committee said. “These conditions have become detrimental to our lives and in extension the lives of our families. These concerns are the product of larger systemic issues within the discipline of architecture and are in no way unique to SHoP. From the moment we begin studying architecture, we are taught that great design requires endless time and effort, and in turn demands the sacrifice of personal health and relationships. We are taught that architecture is a greater calling and regardless of how the client is willing to compensate us, we will perform our duty because it is critically important for the greater good.”

Air Line Pilots at Sun Country Ratify Tentative New Contract: Pilots who fly for Sun Country Airlines, members of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), voted 93% in favor of ratifying a new tentative four-year agreement. The pact brings the pilots’ salaries, retirement and other work rules in line with their peers in the industry. The agreement was reached after seven months of negotiations, and reflects the growth and modernization of Sun Country in recent years. “We are proud of this contract that reflects the work we’ve done and contributions we’ve made to help the airline grow,” said Capt. Brian Lethert, Sun Country Airlines ALPA Master Executive Council chair. “We are committed to helping the company continue growing and achieving its objectives through this modern contract, which will ensure the airline is able to retain and attract pilots.”

Kellogg Strike Ends as BCTGM Members Ratify New Contract: After a strike that began Oct. 5, Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) members have approved a new five-year contract that includes “no take-aways; no concessions.” The workers at ready-to-eat cereal plants in Battle Creek, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Omaha, Nebraska; and Memphis, Tennessee, voted in favor of the new agreement, which includes: no permanent two-tier system, a clear path to regular full-time employment, no plant shutdowns through October 2026, increases in pension payments and the maintenance of cost-of-living raises. “Our striking members at Kellogg’s ready-to-eat cereal production facilities courageously stood their ground and sacrificed so much in order to achieve a fair contract. This agreement makes gains and does not include any concessions,” said BCTGM International President Anthony Shelton. “Our entire Union commends and thanks Kellogg’s members. From picket line to picket line, Kellogg’s union members stood strong and undeterred in this fight, inspiring generations of workers across the globe, who were energized by their tremendous show of bravery as they stood up to fight and never once backed down….The BCTGM is grateful, as well, for the outpouring of fraternal support we received from across the labor movement for our striking members at Kellogg’s. Solidarity was critical to this great workers’ victory.”

Oregon Grocery Workers End Strike with Tentative Agreement: Grocery workers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555, at Fred Meyer and Quality Food Centers in Oregon ended a strike after reaching a tentative labor agreement. The new contract provides wage increases, improved workplace protections, new retirement and health care benefits. The stores are part of Kroger-owned supermarket chains.

WGAE Ratifies Landmark Contract with VICE: On Friday, the Writers Guild of America, East, (WGAE) announced that its 160 members at VICE Media have ratified a new three-year contract that sets an increased minimum salary of $63,000 and provides minimum yearly wage increases ranging from 3% to 3.75%. The WGAE previously had four contracts at VICE representing four main editorial verticals, but the new contract combines them all into one agreement. “Thanks to a unified and strong union, workers across VICE will now work under one collective bargaining agreement,” said WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson. “This new contract and its substantial gains are a testament to the VICE bargaining committee’s diligent efforts to address the concerns and aspirations of workers at a company that continues to grow within the ever-shifting media landscape.”

Ironworkers Emerge Victorious in Strike Against Erie Strayer: After nearly three months on strike, the members of Ironworkers Local 851 in Erie, Pennsylvania, have declared victory. Management at Erie Strayer came “to the table in good faith today to meet us in our demands,” the union announced on Friday. The members of Local 851 held the line, day and night, for months in their fight for a fair contract. “This win is a testament to the power of worker solidarity, and that the best protection and future for workers everywhere is with a union contract made for workers and by workers,” the Ironworkers said in a statement. Their grit and determination to win, together with the support of the local community and the labor movement, is an example to us all.

Vodeo Games Workers Form First Video Game Union in North America: The employees at Vodeo Games have come together to form Vodeo Workers United, the first certified union of video game workers in North America. The union was organized with the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees-CWA (CODE-CWA). Thirteen workers at the video game company, including independent contractors, received voluntary recognition of their new union from their employer. With this recognition, Vodeo Workers United is set to begin bargaining a first contract. “All workers deserve a union and a say in how their workplace is run, no matter where they work, what their employment status is or what kind of conditions they work under,” said Myriame Lachapelle, a producer at Vodeo Games. “We have been inspired by the growing worker organizing within the gaming industry and hope we can set a new precedent for industry-wide standards that will better our shared working conditions and inspire others to do the same.”

OPEIU Members at MOVE Texas Ratify First Contract: Members of MOVE Texas United (MTXU), an affiliate of the Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Local 277, unanimously ratified their first contract on Friday, having secured significant gains at the bargaining table. Highlights of the new contract include full benefits paid for by the employer, 40% employee representation on the board, a $50,000 wage floor for full-time employees and a 32-hour workweek. MOVE Texas is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering underrepresented youth communities. “To begin at the start of the new year, the 47-page contract will set an unprecedented example for the labor movement in the nonprofit sector,” MTXU said after the vote. “After almost a year of negotiations between the employer and the union, MOVE Texas United can celebrate an inspiring process and several innovative strides.”

Blue Skies Ahead: TWU Members at JetBlue Ratify First Contract: Members of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) who work as flight attendants, or “inflight crewmembers” (IFCs) as JetBlue calls them, decisively ratified their inaugural contract on Monday with the airline. The union said that while successfully negotiating a first contract is not an easy feat to accomplish under ordinary circumstances, it was made even more challenging because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a skyrocketing number of assaults against aviation workers. TWU members at JetBlue have been fighting for a fair contract since overwhelmingly voting to form a union in 2018. “This is a tremendous victory for our 5,500 IFCs at JetBlue. In this time of uncertainty and peril, there is no greater security for workers than a solid contract,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen. “Our JetBlue inflight crewmembers are no longer ‘at-will’ employees of the carrier, but union workers whose employment is secured by an enforceable collective bargaining agreement. What a huge difference it is.” The new contract includes a grievance and arbitration system, work rule improvements, health insurance and retirement benefits, and wage increases.

Big Cartel Workers Form First Tech Union in Right to Work State: Tech workers at Big Cartel received voluntary recognition of their new union, Big Cartel Workers Union, on Monday in a groundbreaking organizing victory. Staff at the e-commerce platform for creative businesses are the first tech workers to form a union in a “right to work” state as the company is based in Salt Lake City. The union members, who are affiliated with Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Tech Workers Union Local 1010, will begin bargaining their first contract with their employer next month. “Tech workers are becoming increasingly aware of the power a union brings them at work,” said OPEIU Organizing Director Brandon Nessen. “Unionizing gives working people agency to advance not only their own interests, but the mutual interests shared by both staff and management.”

Wirecutter Union Members Reach Tentative Agreement for Their First Contract: Members of the Wirecutter Union, part of The NewsGuild of New York/CWA Local 31003, announced on Tuesday that they have reached a tentative agreement with management. The workers at The New York Times’ product review site have been fighting for their first contract for two years. They went on a five-day strike during the recent Black Friday shopping season to pressure management to stop its union-busting practices and negotiate a fair agreement. Rallying together with 100% membership participation in the strike, and with the entire labor movement and our allies backing them up, these union members now get to vote on a groundbreaking new contract that includes significant wage increases, the elimination of nondisclosure agreements in cases of harassment, and strong diversity, equity and inclusion commitments. “We’ve fought to build our power over the last two years, despite continuous union-busting from The New York Times,” the Wirecutter Union tweeted. “The result is a bargaining agreement we’re proud of.”

VTDigger Newsroom Employees Secure First Collective Bargaining Agreement: Workers at VTDigger, members of the Providence Newspaper Guild (TNG-CWA Local 31041), ratified their first-ever collective bargaining agreement. The three-year deal “establishes consistent standards, rewards longevity, guarantees minimum salaries and overtime pay, and continues to solidify the organization’s commitment to improving diversity, equity and inclusion. It has been a long and at times difficult conversation, but we had it as equals, and the organization is much stronger for it,” said Lola Duffort, co-unit chair of the VTDigger Guild. “I am delighted we have arrived—unanimously—at such a robust agreement.” The new contract includes minimum salaries, cost-of-living increases, paid sick leave, paid parental leave, overtime pay, salary increases and other benefits.

Graduate Researchers Secure Union Recognition and University of California: More than 17,000 graduate student researchers across the University of California’s campuses have secured recognition from the university as members of Student Researchers United, an affiliate of the UAW. UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada said: “The UAW is proud to welcome UC Student Researchers into our union family. They have shown what is possible when workers stand together and refuse to be divided. We look forward to supporting them as they bargain a strong first contract.” Members of the union held a series of protests demanding representation, employment security, protection from harassment and other common workplace protections.

Workers at iHeart Podcast Network Join WGAE: The WGAE broke the news on Thursday that a clear majority of workers at the iHeart Podcast Network—the fastest-growing division of iHeartMedia—signed union cards to organize with the WGAE. The guild is calling on management to voluntarily recognize the union of about 125 producers, editors, researchers, writers and hosts. The iHeart Podcast Organizing Committee wrote a letter to management explaining their decision to form a union with WGAE and expressing their desire for appropriate compensation and benefits, accountability mechanisms regarding diversity and inclusion efforts, and clear paths for advancement and job security. WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson said: “We are pleased to welcome the storytellers at the iHeart Podcast Network to the guild. A union is vital to ensuring podcast workers are able to build sustainable careers in an industry where their contributions have been essential to the sector’s continued rapid growth.”

Chalkbeat Workers Unanimously Ratify First Union Contract: Writers at Chalkbeat, represented by the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), voted unanimously to ratify their first collective bargaining agreement. The bargaining committee said: “Our members unanimously voted yes on our first contract because these issues were such a priority. We’re all excited to have better guidelines that we know will make Chalkbeat a better place to work. Organizing as a union has already helped our unit members feel more connected, sharing their various work experiences across the country, and working together to make sure we all have better working conditions. We’re excited that Chalkbeat ultimately heard our concerns, and we’re certain the new contract will lead to even more powerful journalism. Strong journalists make for a strong Chalkbeat.” The contract includes salary increases, minimum salary levels, paid parental leave, overtime compensation, improved health benefits, improved protections against sexual harassment, improved health benefits for transgender employees and other gains.

Actors’ Equity Secures Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Provisions in New Agreement with Purple Rose Theatre Company: Actors’ Equity Association announced on Tuesday that the union has reached a new agreement with the Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, Michigan. Equity said the agreement reflects a shared commitment to creating a safe workplace, free from the discrimination and harassment the company experienced under its previous leadership. In addition to improved compensation and work hours, the two-year contract includes strong language prohibiting bullying, discrimination, harassment and retaliation. “This contract is now one of the strongest Equity contracts in the country in terms of protecting members from discrimination and harassment, and it will be a model for other theatres,” said Equity Assistant Executive Director and General Counsel Andrea Hoeschen. “Actors and stage managers will have a safer workplace because of the courage and efforts of those who revealed a range of working conditions at Purple Rose that were inconsistent with a safe, equitable, unionized workplace.”

SRU-UAW Wins Recognition from the University of California: In a massive victory for the UAW and the entire labor movement, Student Researchers United-UAW (SRU-UAW) announced Wednesday night that the University of California (UC) has recognized their union. SRU-UAW submitted union authorization cards in May after a months-long organizing campaign. Their recognition now means the union will represent 17,000 higher education workers at all 10 UC campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. SRU-UAW members overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike in November over UC’s refusal to recognize their bargaining unit. “This historic victory was brought about by the tireless efforts of thousands of student researchers who organized to win a union and a direct response to our massive strike authorization vote,” the union tweeted on Wednesday. “Now let’s win a strong contract for all student researchers!”

Front-Line Grocery Workers Vote to Form a Union with UFCW Local 1439: United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1439 announced Monday that some 250 grocery workers at Fred Meyer in Richland, Washington, will join the union after a victorious election, marking the first time in recent history that an entire store of grocery workers in the state have done so. The organizing win now paves the way for these new union members to move forward in bargaining their first union contract to strengthen pay, benefits and working conditions. “This is an unprecedented victory, inspired by the sacrifices of essential grocery workers during the pandemic,” said Local 1439 Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Hofstader. “We hope this inspires other grocery workers to stand up and exercise their rights.”

Dancers at Ballet Idaho Vote to Join AGMA: The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and Ballet Idaho announced on Monday that the dancers of Ballet Idaho have voted to join AGMA. A vote was held on Tuesday, Nov. 30, based upon mutual agreement between the union and the performing arts company. Given the result in favor of forming a union, Ballet Idaho has recognized AGMA as the exclusive bargaining representative of the dancers. “AGMA is thrilled to welcome the dancers of Ballet Idaho into the union,” said Leonard Egert, national executive director of AGMA. “We look forward to a collaborative process with the management of Ballet Idaho, as the safety, well-being and long-term success of these artists remain a top priority for both parties.”

Carnegie Library Workers Reach Tentative Agreement on First Union Contract: After voting to join the United Steelworkers (USW) in 2019, approximately 300 workers at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh have reached a tentative agreement on their first union contract. The four-year contract covers eligible workers at 19 library branches and includes significant gains, including a voice in library decision-making, improved health and safety, pay equity for the lowest-paid workers and more affordable health care. Kira Yeversky, a clerk at the Homewood branch, said: “I’m so proud of every worker who shared their stories and fought for our first contract. They displayed true solidarity, and I can’t wait to see what this next chapter brings for all of us.”

PECSH-MNA Reaches Tentative Agreement at Sparrow Hospital: The bargaining team of the Professional Employees Council of Sparrow Hospital-Michigan Nurses Association (PECSH-MNA), an affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU), reached a tentative agreement with the hospital administration for a new three-year contract last Friday, averting a possible strike. The new agreement includes significant wage increases, no increases in health care premiums, a safe staffing process and contractually guaranteed access to personal protective equipment. “We truly believe that this contract will make a difference for caregivers working at our hospital, for the patients we serve and for our community as a whole,” said Katie Pontifex, RN, president of PECSH-MNA. “We are really proud of the solidarity shown by caregivers in advocating for our patients and our community.” In November, 96% of PECSH-MNA members voted to authorize a strike. Some 2,200 union members will cast their ballots in the coming days on whether to ratify the agreement.

MEBA Secures Pay Bonuses for Vaccinated Interlake Mariners: Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) President Adam Vokac announced last week that the union has agreed to a new pay policy to compensate fully vaccinated MEBA members sailing for Interlake Steamship Co. The policy doesn’t mandate vaccinations but provides a generous payment for those who are vaccinated or get inoculated against COVID-19, and sets up a system where an additional one-time payment is authorized for members if at least 85% of the fleet is certified to be fully vaccinated. The MEBA said it fully endorses this proactive and fair approach to motivate mariners to get vaccinated.

LIUNA Service Contract Workers Win Higher Wages: Hundreds of thousands of federal government contract workers will receive a pay raise as the Department of Labor’s Executive Order setting a $15 an hour minimum wage goes into effect in January. Thousands of Laborers (LIUNA) members working under service contracts for the federal government, including many supporting the U.S. military, also will benefit from this increase as well as the plan to index the minimum wage to an inflation measure, so that every year after 2022 wages will be automatically adjusted to reflect changes in the cost of living. “The Biden Administration should be commended for helping workers get ahead and ensuring that the workers who support the military and the federal government are able to support themselves and their families,” said LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “By setting a wage floor for federal contract workers with cost-of-living adjustments, many thousands of Laborers will earn higher wages now and in the future.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on January 4, 2022

About the Authors: Kenneth Quinell is a Senior Writer at the AFL-CIO.

Aaron Gallant is the Internal Communications Specialist at AFL-CIO

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The Union Members Who Voted for Trump Have to Be Organized—Not Ignored

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Although Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will be leav­ing the White House, pro­gres­sives must reck­on with the fact that 74 mil­lion peo­ple?—?almost a third of whom came from house­holds mak­ing under $50,000—vot­ed for him. It is alarm­ing that so many work­ing-class peo­ple would vote against their class inter­ests, but per­haps most alarm­ing of all are the union mem­bers who were drawn in by Trump­ism. Before the 2016 elec­tion, Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates had long won union house­holds by com­fort­able dou­ble-dig­it mar­gins; but in 2016 and 2020, Trump erod­ed those mar­gins. If the Left is to win pro­gres­sive poli­cies (and the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion), it needs a mil­i­tant labor move­ment. Unions, after all, are one of the only effec­tive work­ing-class insti­tu­tions in this coun­try that can engage work­ers to build pow­er on the job and in soci­ety at large. We must under­stand who these union Trump vot­ers are, why they vot­ed for Trump, and what can be done to win them back. 

Many on the Left have writ­ten off Trump sup­port­ers as a lost cause or unwor­thy of effort. This response is under­stand­able, par­tic­u­lar­ly for peo­ple of col­or and oth­ers direct­ly harmed by Trump poli­cies. And we should by no means court the vocal sub­set of Trump­ists who are vir­u­lent white supremacists. 

But most Amer­i­cans hold a con­fus­ing mix of polit­i­cal beliefs that will nev­er fit square­ly with­in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can par­ties. When the group Work­ing Amer­i­ca held in-depth con­ver­sa­tions with more than 2,300work­ing-class vot­ers in so-called bat­tle­ground states in 2016 and 2017, it found that beliefs didn’t map to par­ty lines: Vot­ers believed in both expand­ing the coal indus­try and pro­tect­ing the envi­ron­ment; in both uni­ver­sal health­care and keep­ing out ?“free­load­ing” refugees; in both ban­ning abor­tion and low­er­ing health­care costs. A 2019 poll from the Kaiser Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion and Cook Polit­i­cal Report found that, in bat­tle­ground states, 70% of respon­dents sup­port­ed a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship for undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants and yet 71% felt it was a bad idea not to detain peo­ple who crossed the bor­der with­out doc­u­men­ta­tion. Not every issue dri­ves vot­ing behav­ior: 70% of Amer­i­cans sup­port Medicare for All, and yet the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date cham­pi­oning the pol­i­cy (Sen. Bernie Sanders) came up short. 

If the goal of reach­ing out to Trump vot­ers is to acti­vate their pro­gres­sive beliefs strong­ly enough to influ­ence their vot­ing behav­ior, then union Trump vot­ers should be a promis­ing place to start. A good union nat­u­ral­ly ties the fate of the work­er to oth­ers, a pow­er­ful counter-nar­ra­tive to the rugged indi­vid­u­al­ism our soci­ety (and Trump) pro­motes. Union mem­bers are also (the­o­ret­i­cal­ly) trained and expe­ri­enced in fight­ing their boss­es. Being part of a strug­gle against a boss means reliance on fel­low work­ers, regard­less of race and gen­der and oth­er social divi­sions. Unions them­selves, of course, need to embark on a far-reach­ing pro­gram for mem­ber­ship to put these strug­gles in con­text?—?one that doesn’t shy away from tough ques­tions in fear of upset­ting a (ten­u­ous) sense of unity. 

Dis­cus­sions around immi­gra­tion and racism, for exam­ple, are chal­leng­ing in their own right but have become espe­cial­ly charged since Trump took office. Avoid­ing these top­ics may pre­serve a sense of uni­ty in the short term but dam­ages the long-term abil­i­ty of work­ers to forge sol­id bonds of sol­i­dar­i­ty and orga­nize to fight against racism and social pro­grams like Medicare for All. 

To under­stand how unions might reach the union Trump vot­er, we can look at how sim­i­lar efforts have suc­ceed­ed and failed?—?and get to know union Trump vot­ers themselves. 

The Trump Unionist

Tony Rei­tano, 49, works in main­te­nance at a Bridge­stone plant in Iowa. He is a mem­ber of the Unit­ed Steel­work­ers and vot­ed for Trump in 2016 and 2020. Rei­tano tells In These Times, ?“I liked what [Trump] said about trade deals in 2016; that was a big thing for me … bring­ing jobs back to Amer­i­ca.” He adds, ?“And this time around, [Trump] did, or tried to accom­plish, all of the things he said he was going to do … like back­ing away from the [Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship].” (The Unit­ed Steel­work­ers, which endorsed Biden in 2020 and Clin­ton in 2016, oppos­es the trade deal, on the grounds that jobs would be lost.)

Trump vot­ers often cite their con­cern with jobs and wages as the rea­son they vot­ed for him. While most vot­ers rank the econ­o­my as one of their most impor­tant issues, 84% of Trump vot­ers rat­ed the econ­o­my as ?“very impor­tant” in 2020, com­pared to Biden sup­port­ers’ 66%.

Lynne (who didn’t want her last name used for fear of social retal­i­a­tion), 62, is a retired teacher and union mem­ber in the sub­urbs of Philadel­phia. A reg­is­tered Inde­pen­dent, Lynne vot­ed for Oba­ma in 2008, moved by his mes­sage of hope and change. Like Rei­tano, she was drawn to Trump in 2016by his eco­nom­ic promis­es?—?and vot­ed Trump again in 2020. ?“You can’t care about oth­er poli­cies if you’re wor­ried about los­ing your house or if your chil­dren don’t have food or if your heat may get turned off,” Lynne tells In These Times. ?“Hav­ing shel­ter and food is everyone’s num­ber one con­cern. And with Trump, we had the low­est unem­ploy­ment rate in this coun­try … for every­one, includ­ing Lati­nos and Blacks.”

Trump clear­ly under­stood that a strong eco­nom­ic mes­sage would be the key to vic­to­ry, boast­ing about the unem­ploy­ment rate on the 2020 cam­paign trail. But the Trump unem­ploy­ment rate only decreased slight­ly before the pan­dem­ic, and like­ly because of Oba­ma-era poli­cies. Mean­while, wage growth has stag­nat­ed or declined for the bot­tom 70% of work­ers since the 1970s and the Job Qual­i­ty Index (a proxy for the over­all health of the U.S. jobs mar­ket) fell sig­nif­i­cant­ly after 2006 and nev­er recovered.

Amid this uncer­tain­ty, Trump par­layed eco­nom­ic con­cerns into his brand of racism to dri­ve white vot­ers. Of course, many Trump vot­ers do not con­sid­er Trump an ardent racist. For exam­ple, Ernie Jus­tice, 76, a retired coal min­er in Ken­tucky, tells In These Times that ?“there’s not a racist drop of blood in Don­ald Trump.” Like Lynne, Jus­tice also vot­ed for Oba­ma and lat­er Trump. Lynne, too, says she ?“doesn’t real­ly see the racism.” Demonstrators at a #StopTheSteal rally line the streets in support of President Donald Trump on November 7, 2020, in Carson City, Nev. Despite no evidence of voter fraud, Trump has insisted since the election that victory was stolen from him by various outside forces. Trump made gains against Democrats by winning a higher proportion of union votes—a former Democratic bastion—than any previous Republican candidate since Reagan. 

But Trump cer­tain­ly asso­ci­at­ed the decline in qual­i­ty of life expe­ri­enced by white work­ers with not only the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, but immi­grants and oth­er peo­ple of col­or. George Goehl, direc­tor of the nation­al grass­roots orga­niz­ing net­work People’s Action, says ?“Democ­rats’ lack of will­ing­ness to name the ene­my?—?run­away cor­po­rate pow­er?—?just left a huge vac­u­um for the Right to use race and immigration.”

While Repub­li­cans authored the so-called right-to-work leg­is­la­tion that has under­mined union orga­niz­ing, Democ­rats are the pro­po­nents of the free trade agree­ments that have decreased wages and off-shored jobs. Decades of eco­nom­ic dev­as­ta­tion?—?includ­ing loss of good union jobs in the Rust Belt, fac­to­ries mov­ing abroad and stag­nant wages— opened a door for Trump to step through. Goehl says peo­ple have ?“clear­ly been punched in the gut tons of times by neolib­er­al­ism”?—?and Trump’s cam­paign cap­i­tal­ized on that by promis­ing to bring back man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs.

This land­scape is dif­fi­cult for both unions and the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. While union lead­er­ship has thrown its weight behind Democ­rats in hopes of bet­ter orga­niz­ing ter­rain, estab­lish­ment Democ­rats are caught between unions and their party’s alle­giance to big busi­ness. And the Democ­rats have a his­to­ry of mak­ing labor promis­es they don’t keep. In 2008, Oba­ma ran on pass­ing the Employ­ee Free Choice Act, which would have made the process of union­iza­tion faster and eas­i­er?—?but didn’t cham­pi­on the bill once elect­ed. And unions, which are no match for lob­by­ing efforts by giant cor­po­ra­tions like Wal­mart or Home Depot, couldn’t win the law alone. Repeat­ed dis­ap­point­ments have led union mem­bers to lose faith in insti­tu­tions they once held dear.

That loss of faith played out in the 2016 and 2020 elec­tions. After unions spent record amounts on cam­paigns to defeat Trump, Hillary Clin­ton won union house­holds by only 8% in 2016 (to Obama’s 18% in 2012), a small enough mar­gin to cost her Penn­syl­va­nia, Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin (and the elec­tion). And after unions broke that 2016 record in 2020, Biden won union house­holds by 16% (and won those three states back), but Trump won union house­holds in Ohio by 12% (which Oba­ma had won by 23%). Unions can spend huge amounts of mon­ey and mobi­lize the votes of a (declin­ing) por­tion of their mem­bers, but to keep those mem­bers from slip­ping away, they’ll need to do much more.

A Bat­tle of Ideas

Each of the three Trump vot­ers who spoke with In These Times for this sto­ry men­tioned jobs and the econ­o­my as big issues, but all inde­pen­dent­ly shared con­cerns about open bor­ders, lat­er abor­tions, and the creep of social­ism and com­mu­nism. These issues are dis­cussed near­ly con­stant­ly on Fox News and by con­ser­v­a­tive radio per­son­al­i­ties like Rush Lim­baugh and Sean Han­ni­ty. And as trust of the media is at an almost all-time low, many Trump sup­port­ers only tune into media that reflects what they already believe?—?just as cen­trist and lib­er­al Democ­rats watch CNN or MSNBC. Nev­er mind that the U.S.-Mexico bor­der wall was start­ed under Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, lat­er abor­tions are exceed­ing­ly rare and most social­ist orga­niz­ing is about basic rights, like health­care and a liv­ing wage.

The con­stant onslaught of hate­ful mes­sages from rightwing media and the war waged against the work­ing class by the rich has led U.S. work­ers into a fog of con­fu­sion with­out an ide­o­log­i­cal bea­con to help clar­i­fy and fight back. The unions that have sur­vived have become more insu­lar, increas­ing­ly focused on the imme­di­ate issues of their own mem­bers, tak­ing a con­ces­sion­ary approach that treats boss­es like coali­tion part­ners. If the Left and unions hope to make appeals to union Trump vot­ers (and oth­er sec­tions of the work­ing class), this strat­e­gy must change.

Unions need to cut through the right-wing fog of dis­in­for­ma­tion by offer­ing edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams of their own to explain the sys­temic prob­lems caus­ing the decline in work­ers’ con­di­tions. One mod­el, offered by People’s Action, has shown that talk­ing with Trump sup­port­ers about sys­temic issues can effec­tive­ly shift atti­tudes. Begin­ning in 2017, George Goehl and People’s Action embarked on a rur­al and small-town orga­niz­ing project, focused on ?“deep can­vass­ing,” to show white peo­ple how sys­temic racism is real and active­ly harm­ing them and their com­mu­ni­ties. (Some of these peo­ple are union mem­bers, though many are not.) While many (espe­cial­ly non­white) peo­ple on the Left find it dif­fi­cult to have con­ver­sa­tions with Trump sup­port­ers (fear­ing abuse or just afraid of wast­ed ener­gy), Goehl sees the talks as cru­cial. ?“While you are much more like­ly to live in pover­ty if you are Black or Lati­no, the largest group of peo­ple liv­ing in pover­ty are white peo­ple,” Goehl says. ?“And a Left say­ing, ?‘We are not going to be in rela­tion­ship with the largest group of peo­ple liv­ing in pover­ty’ … seems nuts.” 

People’s Action has had near­ly 10,000 con­ver­sa­tions in rur­al areas since the 2016 elec­tion, most­ly with Oba­ma vot­ers who flipped to Trump. While immi­gra­tion is a con­tro­ver­sial issue all over the coun­try (includ­ing inside the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty), objec­tion to a wider immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy is high­er in rur­al areas, pre­sum­ably because of the ease of blam­ing immi­grants for a lack of jobs. Dur­ing their deep can­vass­es, People’s Action orga­niz­ers found that the mos­tused word was ?“lack,” and that eco­nom­ic inse­cu­ri­ty rever­ber­at­ed through all respons­es. ?“When we asked peo­ple who they saw as respon­si­ble for the declin­ing con­di­tions,” Goehl says, ?“peo­ple were able to pick mul­ti­ple answers, and 41% of peo­ple said undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, but 81% [said] a gov­ern­ment encap­tured by corporations.”

Onah Ossai, an orga­niz­er with Penn­syl­va­nia Stands Up, which is affil­i­at­ed with People’s Action, tells In These Times, ?“Peo­ple at the top [are] using race and class to divide us so that they can turn around and pick our pock­ets. … Every­one [whose door we knock on] agrees with that.”

Melis­sa Crop­per, pres­i­dent of the Ohio Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers and sec­re­tary trea­sur­er of the Ohio AFL-CIO, echoes Goehl, telling In These Times, ?“It’s hard to get out and have these grass­roots-lev­el con­ver­sa­tions, but we need to invest in grass­roots orga­niz­ers from the com­mu­ni­ties who can have these con­ver­sa­tions and can work [on solu­tions] with the community.”

Unions can fol­low People’s Action by hold­ing more polit­i­cal dis­cus­sions with their mem­bers about how the labor move­ment (and the Left) fights for work­ing peo­ple. But they must also show the path for­ward?—?how work­ers them­selves can join the fight to rein in cor­po­rate power.

Rebuild­ing unions?—?orga­niz­ing more work­ers?—?is the first step toward a broad­er work­er coali­tion. But People’s Action and pro­gres­sive union­ists also believe race and class issues are keys to a coher­ent Left?—?because if we ignore them, the Right will use them to dri­ve a white, reac­tionary, pop­ulist movement.

Tamika Woods and Amir Langhorne, pictured here in Graham, N.C. in 2017, are canvassers with Down Home North Carolina. The group is affiliated with the national organizing network People’s Action and relies heavily on “deep canvassing”—in-depth conversations with voters to shift perspectives on key political issues. PHOTO COURTESY OF PEOPLE’S ACTION

“[Labor lead­ers] have to … explain the con­struc­tion of race and cap­i­tal­ism,” says Bill Fletch­er Jr., exec­u­tive edi­tor of The Glob­al African Work­er and for­mer AFL-CIO staffer. ?“The absence of that, and the reliance on so-called diver­si­ty pro­grams, at best teach­es tol­er­ance but does not get at the par­tic­u­lar role that race plays as a divi­sion of the work­ing class. They need to embark on mas­sive inter­nal edu­ca­tion­al efforts.”

Unions should place a high­er pre­mi­um on build­ing sol­i­dar­i­ty among the work­ing class as a whole, in all of its diver­si­ty. One exam­ple is the 2020part­ner­ship between the Unit­ed Elec­tri­cal Work­ers (UE) and the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (DSA). The groups formed the Emer­gency Work­place Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee to help work­ers orga­nize on the job in the midst of Covid-19. It’s exact­ly the kind of alliance the Left and the labor move­ment should forge, ampli­fy­ing both groups’ impacts by orga­niz­ing new work­ers and engag­ing exist­ing membership.

These types of alliances demon­strate an atti­tude of ?“not me, us” (to quote Sanders’ pres­i­den­tial cam­paign slo­gan)— the key to build­ing work­er trust and tak­ing on the pow­er­ful forces ulti­mate­ly respon­si­ble for the eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty so many expe­ri­ence. Rei­tano believes strong­ly in his union, but he wor­ries that new hires, who are immi­grants, won’t join the union or won’t fight for high­er wages, because they are used to low­er wage stan­dards. ?“If the union can edu­cate these peo­ple so they under­stand that we have to stand togeth­er, I think it’ll be okay,” he says. In a sit­u­a­tion like this, a union polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion pro­gram could not only engage new mem­bers, as Rei­tano sug­gests, but also forge sol­i­dar­i­ty and trust across the old guard/?new guard divide.

Cur­rent­ly, how­ev­er, many unions focus pri­mar­i­ly on mobi­liz­ing their mem­bers to vote, rather than on a more robust polit­i­cal pro­gram. In many cas­es, mem­bers don’t have a mech­a­nism to even offer input on the polit­i­cal endorse­ments of their locals and inter­na­tion­als. Instead, every union shop should have stew­ards who con­stant­ly engage work­ers in edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams and strug­gles on the shop floor. Unions launched cam­paigns like this in antic­i­pa­tion of the 2018 Janus Supreme Court deci­sion, which allowed pub­lic-sec­tor employ­ees in union shops to get the ben­e­fits of the union with­out pay­ing for them. Many unions around the coun­try began proac­tive cam­paigns to talk one-on-one with their mem­bers about the impor­tance of their union. In the con­ver­sa­tions, they stressed the pow­er of col­lec­tive action and exposed the right-wing forces try­ing to under­mine unions through Janus and oth­er mea­sures. They encour­aged mem­bers to recom­mit to being dues-pay­ing mem­bers even though they would soon have the abil­i­ty to become ?“free riders.”

None of this work will be easy, but unless unions com­mit to this edu­ca­tion­al work, Trump­ism will con­tin­ue to grow and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of achiev­ing pol­i­cy that can actu­al­ly help work­ing peo­ple will dimin­ish. (Left unchecked, Trump­ism also could dri­ve an increas­ing­ly vio­lent alt-Right.) The Left must sup­port unions in this work by engag­ing in part­ner­ships (like the DSA/UE part­ner­ship) and encour­ag­ing work­ers to orga­nize and union­ize. 

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, for its part, must prove itself wor­thy of the union vote. Right now, tens of mil­lions of work­ers (both union and nonunion) are suf­fer­ing through unem­ploy­ment, hous­ing inse­cu­ri­ty, hunger and a lack of health­care in a dev­as­tat­ing pan­dem­ic. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty lead­er­ship has bare­ly lift­ed a fin­ger to put up a real fight to win relief that is des­per­ate­ly need­ed by so many. They could take exam­ple from Sen. Sanders, who has voiced his oppo­si­tion to the most recent pro­posed ?“com­pro­mise” stim­u­lus bill. While mil­lions suf­fer through the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic with woe­ful­ly inad­e­quate fed­er­al sup­port, Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty lead­er­ship has refused to go big, choos­ing to ignore the pro­gres­sive Dems’ ear­ly push for month­ly cash pay­ments and expand­ed Medicare. With­out these steps, the Democ­rats should not expect work­ing peo­ple to vote for them with­out question.

With­out coun­ter­mea­sures from unions and Democ­rats alike, Repub­li­cans will con­tin­ue to turn the union vote. A 2020 Delaware Sen­ate race between Repub­li­can chal­lenger Lau­ren Witzke and Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bent Sen. Christo­pher Coons offers a glimpse of what’s to come. Though she lost (with 38% of the vote), Witzke ran on an ?“Amer­i­ca First” plat­form includ­ing sup­port for unions and col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, oppo­si­tion to immi­gra­tion (on the basis that migrant work­ers wors­en con­di­tions of all work­ers), and an anti-abor­tion stance.

While Trump’s racism like­ly pro­voked many white pro­fes­sion­als to vote against him in 2020, it did not deter a grow­ing group of peo­ple of col­or?—?and what’s even more alarm­ing than a whites-only right-wing move­ment is a mul­tira­cial one. To counter the appeal of Trump­ism, we need to build a mul­tira­cial, work­ing-class labor move­ment that can arm work­ers with sol­i­dar­i­ty and a renewed com­mit­ment to strug­gle for the world we deserve.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on December 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor move­ment and lives in Philadelphia.

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“We Won’t Let Him”: Unions Nationwide Are Planning a General Strike If Trump Tries to Steal the Election

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Amid wide­spread con­cerns that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will attempt to steal today’s elec­tion or refuse to leave office if he los­es, the lead­ers of mul­ti­ple Chica­go-area unions issued a joint state­ment on Mon­day com­mit­ting to take any non­vi­o­lent action nec­es­sary?—?up to and includ­ing a gen­er­al strike?—?to defend democracy.

“Every sin­gle vote has to be count­ed,” says Sta­cy Davis Gates, vice pres­i­dent of the Chica­go Teach­ers Union (CTU). ?“We are pre­pared to be in sol­i­dar­i­ty to ensure that our democ­ra­cy is pro­tect­ed in this moment.”

The CTU, Unit­ed Elec­tri­cal Work­ers (UE), SEIU Local 73, SEIU Health­care, Cook Coun­ty Col­lege Teach­ers Union, Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Employ­ees Local 704 and Ware­house Work­ers Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee are call­ing on ?“all unions, com­mu­ni­ty, faith and civic orga­ni­za­tions, and pub­lic lead­ers to unite in vig­i­lance and readi­ness to defend our rights as the votes in the Novem­ber 3rd elec­tion are cast and counted.”

The Chica­go unions are part of Labor Action to Defend Democracy (LADD)?—?a recent­ly formed nation­al net­work of union mem­bers orga­niz­ing the labor movement’s response to the threat of a stolen election.

Alex Han, a Chica­go-based labor orga­niz­er help­ing coor­di­nate LADD, says the net­work seeks to tap into the unique pow­er of unions and work­ers to not only protest in the streets, but to cause seri­ous eco­nom­ic dis­rup­tion, if necessary. 

“One les­son we learned from the sum­mer is you can sus­tain street heat to some degree, but it’s going to dis­solve. We saw this dur­ing Occu­py, we’ve seen this many times,” Han tells In These Times. ?“There’s a per­spec­tive that would say the miss­ing ingre­di­ent is a direct link­age with work­place action, which is the kind of action that could be more sus­tain­ing and sharp­er, and not let street action devolve into a run­ning bat­tle with police.”

LADD has put togeth­er var­i­ous resources—includ­ing sam­ple res­o­lu­tions and a mod­el let­ter to politi­cians?—?that unions can use to ampli­fy calls to pro­tect the elec­toral process. In the past three weeks, over twen­ty cen­tral labor coun­cils, state labor fed­er­a­tions, nation­al and local unions have issued res­o­lu­tions express­ing firm oppo­si­tion to any efforts to sub­vert, dis­tort or dis­re­gard the final results of the pres­i­den­tial election.

The Rochester Labor Coun­cil is specif­i­cal­ly call­ing on the nation­al AFL-CIO to pre­pare for a gen­er­al strike, while the Ver­mont AFL-CIO plans to hold a gen­er­al strike vote on Novem­ber 21 should Trump lose and refuse to con­cede. The Seat­tle Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion will also con­vene an emer­gency meet­ing of its board of direc­tors with­in a week of the elec­tion to con­sid­er next steps for pos­si­ble action.

Mean­while, the Emer­gency Work­place Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee (EWOC)—a joint project of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca and UE formed ear­li­er this year in response to the pan­dem­ic?—?host­ed a livestream dis­cus­sion last week on how work­ers can take mass action to ensure a peace­ful tran­si­tion of pow­er. Fea­tur­ing Asso­ci­a­tion of Flight Atten­dants Pres­i­dent Sara Nel­son and EWOC orga­niz­ers Dawn Tefft and Zack Pat­tin, the livestream has near­ly 6,000 views.

“The labor move­ment knows how impor­tant it is to defend democ­ra­cy in this coun­try. We are demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions,” UE Pres­i­dent Carl Rosen explains. ?“We’re pre­pared to do what­ev­er it takes to make sure democ­ra­cy is sus­tained. We know what it’s tak­en in oth­er coun­tries that have faced tin­pot dic­ta­tors try­ing to stay in office after the peo­ple of their coun­try have vot­ed them out.”

As Rosen indi­cates, unions around the world are often the first line of defense against would-be dic­ta­tor­ships. For exam­ple, in the year since Bolivia’s demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed pres­i­dent Evo Morales was oust­ed in a U.S.-backed mil­i­tary coup, the Cen­tral Obr­era Boli­viana?—?the nation’s largest labor fed­er­a­tion—led the fight to restore democ­ra­cy, cul­mi­nat­ing in the recent elec­toral vic­to­ry of Morales’s par­ty, the Movimien­to al Socialismo.

“The labor move­ment has a proud his­to­ry of stand­ing up for democ­ra­cy and fair elec­tions around the world,” says SEIU Local 73 Pres­i­dent Dian Palmer. ?“Cit­i­zens across the coun­try are vot­ing like nev­er before. We are uti­liz­ing the rights afford­ed to us to vote ear­ly, in per­son, and by mail. And those votes should be counted.”

“We believe in the pow­er of the peo­ple?—?the mul­ti-racial, work­ing-class major­i­ty,” the Chica­go unions’ state­ment reads. ?“Don­ald Trump wants to steal this elec­tion. We won’t let him.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 3, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke has been a Work­ing In These Times con­trib­u­tor since 2013. He has a Ph.D. in His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go and a Master’s in Labor Stud­ies from UMass Amherst. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @JeffSchuhrke.

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Trump makes his pitch to white working-class voters, but some who’ve felt his impact push back

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Donald Trump needs white working-class voters. Much of the Republican National Convention (RNC) was aimed at white working-class people who may not have voted in recent elections but are seen as gettable for Trump this November—if he can turn them out. But the white working class isn’t monolithic, either, and there are warning signs for Trump among the younger members of the demographic. There are also some people who’ve seen the effects of Trump the businessman or Trump the politician up close and are ready to speak out against it. And in some cases, their unions are boosting their voices.

“Donald Trump’s claim that he saved Lordstown is a major misrepresentation of what is actually happening here,” said Tiffany Davis, a grade school teacher in the Ohio town. Davis’ husband had to take a job hours away when the GM factory in Lordstown closed. Pointing to the drop in employment at the facility from 4,500 to “a handful,” Davis said: “Our community is not the same and it never will be. The president clearly does not understand what’s happening in Lordstown.”

Davis’ video was shared on Twitter by the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

She’s not the only one. In a video from the Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation Workers Union, Fred Braker tells how the bankruptcies of Trump’s Atlantic City casinos—and Trump’s habit of stiffing the contractors who work on his buildings—hurt workers in that area. The business Braker worked for had around 60 employees, and “we manufactured the 20-foot letters that were up on the top of the Taj Mahal and on Trump Plaza.” That meant not just making the letters but hanging them at the top of the buildings: “It’s hot out, it’s cold out, we work out in the elements. Not just the sign guys but everybody in construction, we worked around the clock … he wanted his name up. We built his signs, because the man loved to see his name, he loved seeing his name on the building.”

Then, of course: â€œMy contractor never got paid, and many many other small contractors never got paid. It was a profitable endeavor for him, just the people who did the work didn’t get paid, that’s all.” Braker had the longest period of unemployment of his entire career because of Trump, and “was reduced to collecting food stamps” while he tried to get side jobs because “I was a proud man. I’m a worker.” Meanwhile, Trump “walked away scot-free, basically, not paying people.”

“My name’s Fred Braker, and I’m voting for Joe Biden, the blue-collar candidate, and I urge all my brothers and sisters to do the same,” the video concludes.

Biden is not going to win among white working-class voters. But he doesn’t have to. Peeling away some of them—as some polls have shown him doing—would be a huge blow to Trump. That’s why Republicans are talking about getting more white working-class people to vote to make up for Trump’s shrinking but still significant advantage among them. Can union members who see Trump for what he is, for what he has directly meant for their jobs, be influential messengers to people who have mostly heard Trump’s own false self-presentation? It can’t hurt, anyway.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on August 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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What the 19th Amendment Meant for Black Women

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One hundred years ago this month, suffragists celebrated the amendment’s adoption. For Black women, it wasn’t a culminating moment, but the start of a new fight to secure voting rights for all Americans.

In August 1920, women across America celebrated the adoption of the 19th Amendment. At the National Woman’s Party headquarters in Washington, Alice Paul, the group’s leader, triumphantly unfurled a banner displaying 36 stars, one for each state that had voted to ratify the women’s suffrage amendment. For Paul and the many suffragists who had picketed the White House or paraded along Pennsylvania Avenue, it was the culmination of decades of work. The next step was getting new women voters registered in anticipation of the fall election.

Alice Paul, seated second from left, sews the 36th star on a banner celebrating the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920. The 36th star represented Tennessee, whose vote to ratify completed the number of states needed to put the amendment in the Constitution.
Alice Paul, seated second from left, sews the 36th star on a banner celebrating the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920. The 36th star represented Tennessee, whose vote to ratify completed the number of states needed to put the amendment in the Constitution. | AP Photo

But the moment looked very different to America’s 5.2 million Black women—2.2 million of whom lived in the South, where Jim Crow laws threatened to keep them off the registration books. For Black women, August 1920 wasn’t the culmination of a movement. It marked the start of a new fight.


In the following months and years, Black women around the country who had pushed for the 19th Amendment persisted. They came together in citizenship and suffrage schools, preparing one another to overcome legal hurdles and reluctant registrars. Fannie Williams worked out of St. Louis’ Phyllis Wheatley YWCA. Mary McLeod Bethune toured Florida as head of that state’s Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. In Richmond, Virginia, Maggie Lena Walker gathered Black women through the Independent Order of St. Luke, a fraternal business organization. They tested the promise of the 19th Amendment, and they exposed its limits.

Left to right: Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Williams and Maggie Lena Walker, all of whom worked to expand Black women’s rights at a time when many states still denied them the vote.
Left to right: Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Williams and Maggie Lena Walker, all of whom worked to expand Black women’s rights at a time when many states still denied them the vote. | Wikimedia Commons; Library of Congress

Notably, Black women did not do this work under the auspices of the country’s major suffrage associations. As the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association and the National Woman’s Party had increasingly bent their cause to accommodate anti-Black racism—a position intended to win white Southern supporters—African American women worked independently. They knew that their voting rights would fully arrive only with federal legislation that would override the states’ Jim Crow laws. Hallie Quinn Brown, head of the National Association of Colored Women, was disappointed when Paul declined to join Black women in the next chapter in the story of women’s votes. Black women moved forward alone.

In the winter of early 1921, Brown wrote to Paul about the upcoming unveiling of a monument to “our three pioneers of suffrage.” The likenesses of three white women—Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott—were scheduled to be revealed at the U.S. Capitol on February 15, the 101st anniversary of Anthony’s birth. Brown’s words admitted the strain she felt: “I am anxious,” she wrote, that the NACW “be represented on that occasion and shall appreciate all information bearing upon this matter.”

Brown got what she sought in one sense. Paul made sure that Brown was there in the Capitol rotunda during the unveiling ceremony, representing the NACW in grand style. Accompanied by a flower girl, Brown posed before the statue, while a royal purple banner proclaimed the presence of the NACW. Applause followed. Behind the scenes, however, things did not go her way. A delegation of Black women called upon Paul just days before the NWP convention was set to begin that week. Their delegation aimed to win support for federal legislation that would give strong teeth to the 19th Amendment, such that Black women could overcome the state laws that continued to disenfranchise them. The delegation was received. But before the NWP convention concluded, the delegation’s aims had been rejected. Rather than continue to work toward women’s full and free access to the polls, the NWP declared its work completed and then folded. Paul moved on to launch a campaign for an Equal Rights Amendment.

When Brown had reached out to Paul, she had offered a slim olive branch by terming Stanton, Anthony and Mott “our” pioneers. Those women might just have been foremothers for Black and white women. But Paul did not return the sentiment—no Black woman was included on the monument or her political agenda.

The dedication ceremony for a monument to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott at the U.S. Capitol in February 1921.
The dedication ceremony for a monument to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott at the U.S. Capitol in February 1921. | Courtesy Architect of the Capitol

Yet Brown, and many other women like her, moved forward. Their efforts are all too often left out of the history of women’s suffrage in America. But as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment this month, it is important to remember the new fight that Black women took up that year. They sought to further what they termed the interests of humanity. They made the case to the American people that voting should be a right for all citizens, regardless of gender and race—a message that resonates in the months before the 2020 election: Black women and men still face hurdles to voting, while leading the nation toward universal access to the polls.

When the 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution, Black and white women stood alongside one another more equal than ever before. But what equality meant depended on where you were in a nation divided by Jim Crow. In the North and to the west, Black women successfully cast ballots in 1920, voting for the very first time alongside their husbands, fathers and sons. Officials in Southern states confronted Black women with unevenness, hostility and downright refusal. And without the opportunity to register, many Black women never made it to the polls in that election year.

Several states imposed grandfather clauses that ensured that the descendants of disenfranchised slaves, though now free people, could not vote. Other states subjected voters to literacy tests, which local election officials administered differently to Black versus white voters. So-called understanding clauses demanded that potential voters read and then explain a text—another requirement that disproportionately disenfranchised Black Americans. When Black voters did overcome these hurdles, they often learned that they had accumulated years of unpaid poll taxes, all of which had to be paid before they could cast a ballot.

Registration numbers reflected the effects of discriminatory laws. Black women did present themselves to officials in the fall of 1920, but many found the doors closed.

Registration numbers reflected the effects of discriminatory laws. Black women did present themselves to officials in the fall of 1920, but many found the doors closed. Their numbers in Kent County, Delaware, were “unusually large,” the Wilmington News Journal reported, but officials refused Black women who “failed to comply with the constitutional tests.” In Jefferson County, Alabama, laws stymied Black women when they set out to register, and some blamed Black leaders, who themselves could not navigate the maze of requirements. In Huntsville, Alabama, the Nashville Tennessean explained, “only a half dozen Black women” were among the 1,445 who registered, and the explanation was clear: Officials applied “practically the same rules of qualification to [women] as are applied to colored men.”

Worried that Black women might manage to register, state lawmakers went so far as to change laws to keep the doors locked shut. In Mississippi, rule makers changed poll taxes to “require the same poll tax of $2.00 of women, as now required of men,” the Vicksburg Herald said. It was no secret that this change was important, vital even, to those who feared that the old law “would permit negro women to register without being required to pay a poll tax.” In Savannah, Georgia, officials imposed the letter of the law, concluding that although “many negro women have registered here since the suffrage amendment became effective … the election judges ruled that they were not entitled to vote because of a state law which requires registration six months before an election,” according to news reports. This ruling meant that no woman in the state of Georgia could vote—too little time had passed between the ratification of the 19th Amendment and Election Day. But this was a reading of the law meant to suppress Black women’s votes because “no white women presented themselves at the polls.”

Charlotte Hawkins Brown in her wedding dress, 1912
Charlotte Hawkins Brown, pictured in her wedding dress in 1912. | Wikimedia Commons

Charlotte Hawkins Brown, a well-known educator and advocate who led North Carolina’s State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, saw firsthand the backlash that emerged in response to Black women beginning to gain more political power. In early October, reports surfaced about a letter that was appearing in mailboxes across the South. The letter was addressed to Black women and explained that the terms of the 19th Amendment, which gave “all women the right of the ballot regardless of color.” It went on to “beg all the colored women of North Carolina to register and vote on November 2nd, 1920.” It was a call to action: “The time for negroes has come. Now is our chance to redeem our liberty.” If refused at the polls, the notice instructed Black women to “go at once to a Republican lawyer and start proceedings in the United States courts—don’t waste time with State courts [which] are Controlled by Democrats.” The tone was militant, and it emphasized that Black voters might overtake the system: “White women of North Carolina will not vote and while they sleep let the negro be up and doing. When we get our party in power we can demand what we wish and get in.” It was postmarked Greensboro, North Carolina, and signed, “Yours for negro liberty. colored women’s rights association, for colored women.”

Who, newspaper editors and Democratic Party leaders asked, was responsible for this incendiary manifesto, one that was branded a conspiracy influenced by Republican Party promoters “from the North”? Brown’s name very quickly surfaced; Democrats charged her with conspiring to oppose them and using the new political power of Black women to do so. Her defenders stepped in, calling the circular and the charges against Brown “the lowest, dirtiest piece of political trickery that has ever been practiced by any political party.” These were awkward defenses, though, ones that labeled a circular that stridently promoted Black women’s power at the polls and in party politics “Bosh!”

The storm was rough enough that Brown publicly issued a rebuttal, one in which she invoked the name of every white philanthropist who had supported the school she ran and emphasized her commitment to education, not politics. Brown denied how Black women were intently interested in the potential of 1920 and what it could mean to vote. Once, twice and then a third time on the page of the Stanly Albemarle News-Herald, where the controversy had begun, Brown denied the circular and its views: “I do not hold, or endorse, the views which [the circular] expresses.” Between the lines, Brown expressed her indignation but also her fear of retribution. An association with voting rights could have cost her school its supporters, land, buildings and students—her reputation and her power.

A purple and gold silk banner created for the Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, dating to circa 1924 and reading, “Lifting as we climb.”
A silk banner created for the Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, circa 1924. | National Museum of African American History and Culture

Although it was risky, in many places, Black women organized and prepared one another to face the scrutiny of local officials. In St. Louis, they organized in a “Citizenship League” and ran suffrage schools for men and women. In New Albany, Indiana, Black women met in local churches, where Republican Party officials helped them register and vote. In Akron, Ohio, they met under the auspices of the Colored Women’s Republican Club and canvassed, going house to house to encourage women to register. In Baltimore, from the pulpit a local minister urged that women’s votes were part of God’s vision and the ballot was a “weapon of protection to self and home.”


In some places, Black women triumphed, registering to vote in important numbers. In Frederick, Maryland, 75 percent of Black women planned to register. In Staunton, Virginia, the local newspaper noted those Black women who registered by name and, at least on one day, they outnumbered white women 18 to one. In Wilmington, Delaware, Black women were early to the registrar’s office. In Chatham County, Georgia, the courthouse was “stormed by Negro women who wanted to put their names on the registration books,” according to news reports. In Asheville, North Carolina, women participated in a mass meeting and then “appeared at the various polling places in the city and nearly 100 were registered.” Their presence, it was reported, “came as a surprise to Democrats.”

In Richmond, Virginia, a fracas followed when Black women outnumbered white, 3 to 1, at a registrar’s office. The official in charge underscored the sense that Black women were unwelcome when, in response to the demand, he called upon police to “keep the applicants in line” according to Jim Crow rules: White and Black women were separated.

In the fall of 1920, Black women didn’t just work to organize and encourage fellow voters. They also began to make their case to the American public.

As the newly elected president of the NACW, Hallie Quinn Brown urged that the ratification of the 19th Amendment was an opening for Black women’s power. “Let us remember that we are making our own history. That we are character builders; building for all eternity. Woman’s horizon has widened. Her sphere of usefulness is greatly enlarged. Her capabilities are acknowledged,” she wrote in the NACW’s national association notes. “Let us not ask: what shall we do with our newly acquired power? Rather, what manner of women are we going to be?” She framed women’s votes as a next chapter in the long struggle for Black political rights: “We stand at the open door of a new era. For the first time in the history of this country, women have exercised the right of franchise. The right for which the pioneers of our race fought, but died without the sight.”

Hallie Quinn Brown
Hallie Quinn Brown, head of the National Association of Colored Women and author of “Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction.” | Library of Congress

The book Brown published in 1926, Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction, leveled one of Brown’s best shots at those who doubted Black women’s suitability as voters. Today, it is still a go-to text for understanding how Black women’s diverse personal histories fit together to tell a story about their readiness for citizenship. Brown collaborated with more than 25 other women to produce—across 250 pages and 60 biographical sketches, essays and poems—an argument about the past, present and future of Black women. The book demolished myths and brought to light the lives of real women—their ideas and their activism. As Brown put it in her introduction, Homespun Heroines aimed to inspire young people to “cleave more tenaciously to the truth and to battle more heroically for the right.” On the horizon, Brown suggested, was a time when universal womanhood suffrage would be realized.

“Let us remember that we are making our own history,” wrote Hallie Quinn Brown. “That we are character builders; building for all eternity.”

The women of Homespun Heroines were paradigmatic voters, women of independence and integrity. For many, formal education had bestowed the insight, reason and discernment that suited them for citizenship. Others, especially those born enslaved, still made manifest qualities—piousness, fidelity, benevolence, selflessness and compassion—all of which evidenced their suitability as voters. Black women had earned the vote, Homespun Heroines argued. As suffragists, they had worked to secure for all American women a constitutional amendment. Homespun Heroines may have been shorter than the six-volume History of Woman Suffrage, begun by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage in the 1880s. But it was no less a chronicle of the history of women’s activism.

left: Mary Church Terrell in front of a bust of Frederick Douglass; right: past presidents of NACW club. 1962 Anniversary publication of the NACW Club
Left: Mary Church Terrell in front of a bust of Frederick Douglass. Right: Past presidents of National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, pictured in a 1962 anniversary publication. | Mary Church Terrell Papers; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division

As the celebration in 1920 of the 19th Amendment faded, Brown and the women of the NACW were left with serious work ahead of them. The way forward was fraught—the NACW faced competition from the increasingly influential NAACP, and suffered from the indifference of white-dominated women’s suffrage organizations like the National Woman’s Party. The elite politics of respectability kept the NACW at a distance from Black women of the working class. It lost members who rejected the vote and party politics in favor of radical, internationalist and pan-African approaches to power.

The road to the 1965 Voting Rights Act was long, arduous and, at many times, dangerous. But Black women in the NACW—allied with women in Black churches, civil rights organizations, sororities, teachers association and more—paved the way to 1965. Club women’s political networks became companions to litigation, advocacy through federal agencies and, by the 1940s, nonviolent direct action. And the NACW’s earliest leaders, women such as Mary Church Terrell and Mary McLeod Bethune, remained active at the heart of struggles for racial justice, from voting rights to desegregation, education and even collaborations with women of color across the globe.

Top: Picketers representing the National Association of Colored Women march past the White House in July 1956. Bottom: Activists Gloria Richardson, Rosa L. Gragg and Diane Nash Bevel are interviewed outside the White House in July 1963, after a meeting in which President John F. Kennedy asked representatives of women’s organizations to back his civil rights program.
Top: Picketers representing the National Association of Colored Women march past the White House in July 1956. Bottom: Activists Gloria Richardson, Rosa L. Gragg and Diane Nash Bevel are interviewed outside the White House in July 1963, after a meeting in which President John F. Kennedy asked representatives of women’s organizations to back his civil rights program. | AP Photo

For Black women, ratification of the 19th Amendment was not a guarantee of the vote, but it was a clarifying moment. Like the 15th Amendment before it, so much about voting rights depended on state law and the discretion of local officials that the 19th Amendment was little more than a broad umbrella under which a wide range of women’s experiences unfolded. More than anything, it marked a turn: Black women were the new keepers of voting rights in the United States. They were at the fore of a new movement—one that linked women’s rights and civil rights in one great push for dignity and power.

This article originally appeared at Politico on August 26, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Martha S. Jones is professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University and author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.

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Priorities USA launches Latino persuasion program in Florida

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Laura Barron-LopezPriorities USA is focusing on Latinos early.

The Democratic super PAC is launching a sustained digital effort to woo Latinos in the run up to the 2020 presidential election, according to details of the plan provided to POLITICO. Priorities USA is starting in Florida first and will expand the slate of digital ads to other battleground states across the country as the cycle progresses.

It’s a new piece of the super PAC’s $100 million commitment to the primaries. The group didn’t spend on Latino-focused ads in 2015.

This time they are starting before 2020 and in a state that is at the heart of President Donald Trump’s re-election efforts. The digital ads which will run on Facebook and YouTube, cover pocketbook issues that Florida Latinos care about, according to the super PAC. The group didn’t specify the amount of money being spent on the Latino outreach program.

The digital program includes digital banners, audio and pre-roll ads. The program also includes promoting news articles across Facebook focused on the impact of Trump’s policies on Latinos in Florida.

Priorities USA said the ads will be about rising health care costs, wages, and Trump’s racist rhetoric and immigration policies.

“Latino communities are feeling the negative economic impacts of President Trump’s reckless policies,” said Daniela Martins, Hispanic Media Director for Priorities USA. “We are launching this program in order to establish a continuous dialogue with Latinos on the everyday pocketbook issues they care about, like stagnant wages under a rising cost of living, the rising costs of healthcare, and the increasing lack of opportunity in an unstable economy.”

“We want them to know that their experience is not isolated, that they are not alone,” Martins said. “That they have a voice for the White House to hear, and the right to push back.”

Priorities USA is taking steps to understand Florida’s different Latino communities, which include Cubans and Puerto Ricans. And is using research it conducted earlier this year surveying Latinos in Florida, Nevada and Arizona to better understand how to reach and mobilize the voting bloc.

Latinos are on pace to be the largest non-white eligible voting bloc in 2020. Miami-Dade County, Florida is home to the third-largest Latino population, 1.9 million, according to Pew research. And hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, are estimated to have migrated to Florida after devastating hurricanes hit the island in 2017.

This article was originally published by the Politico on November 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura BarrĂłn-LĂłpez is a national political reporter for POLITICO, covering House campaigns and the 2020 presidential race.

Barrón-López previously led 2018 coverage of Democrats for the Washington Examiner. At the Examiner, Barrón-López covered the DNC’s efforts to reform the power of superdelegates and traveled to competitive districts that propelled Democrats into the House majority. Before that, Barrón-López covered Congress for HuffPost for two and half years, focusing on fights over fast-track authorization, criminal justice reform, and coal miner pensions, among other policy topics in the Senate.

Early in her career, she covered energy and environment policy for The Hill. Her work has been published in the Oregonian, OC Register, E&E Publishing, and Roll Call. She earned a bachelor’s in political science from California State University, Fullerton.

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Now’s the Time to Be Loud. Register to Vote.

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Image result for Nakisha M. Lewis

We’re not staying quiet anymore.

Working people hit the streets last week, marching for climate justice and picketing alongside nearly 50,000 striking General Motors workers.

It was far from a one-off demonstration of our power. Those actions followed in the footsteps of activists, strikers, organizers and countless others who, all this year, have refused to accept a rigged, broken system.

Worker solidarity is at a boiling point. Hundreds of thousands of working people are joining the labor movement, and millions more say they’re ready to follow suit if given the chance.

Americans are driving a moment of collective action unlike anything we’ve seen in decades. From the workplace to the picket line to our communities, we’re making our voices heard and fighting for the justice that we’re owed.

It’s a fight to peel back corporations’ stranglehold on our economy and eradicate the inequities that still define our society. This is a struggle for massive changes in the way we work and live, putting our lives and future back into our own hands.

That sort of structural change requires new economic and political rules. And to win those new rules, we have to win some elections.

We’ve made plenty of noise in the streets. Now, it’s time to make sure that noise is heard loud and clear at the ballot box.

The work of electing genuine advocates to office—from the White House to city councils—starts now. Our success in 2020 won’t be secured through ad buys or corporate fundraisers. Ultimately, it will be decided by the size and makeup of the electorate.

Who will be registered to vote, and who will turn out to cast a ballot? That’s the game. The other side is already playing, and we need to get moving.

In states across the country—including battlegrounds like Ohio, Wisconsin and Georgia—right-wing forces have changed registration rules, restricted access to polling places and even purged hundreds of thousands of people from the voter rolls.

They want us to be quiet. They want us to stay home. Because if we aren’t silenced, they know we will decide this election.

We can’t afford to sit this out. So, I have three asks for you this National Voter Registration Day.

First, check your voter registration status. You can do it right now. Go to your secretary of state’s website to see whether you’re registered to vote. And if you’re not, change that today.

Second, register your people. Talk to your family and your neighbors. Your friends. Your co-workers. Talk to young people and newly eligible voters. Talk to people who haven’t voted in years. Ask them if they’re registered to vote. If they don’t know, help them check. And if they aren’t, help them register.

Third, remember those conversations and make sure all of those people in your life turn out to vote.

That’s the game plan. If we follow through with it, we can make sure that the votes cast next November represent who we are. We can make sure that our elected officials represent our communities. And we can make sure the policies they enact represent our best interests.

It’s on us to mobilize our communities. Nobody’s going to do it for us, and plenty of deep pockets are doing just the opposite.

We have the power to overcome that opposition and be heard. We do it every day. Let’s do it some more.

This article was originally published at AFL-CIOs on September 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Nakisha M. Lewis is the Director of Civil, Human and Women’s Rights at the AFL-CIO. She is an experienced philanthropic and political impact strategist with deep roots in community organizing. She comes to the Labor Movement after more than twenty years organizing for racial justice, women’s rights and LGBTQ equality at the local and national levels. Prior to joining the AFL-CIO, Nakisha spent ten years in philanthropy working with individual donors and foundations to develop grantmaking strategies that address inequities and strengthen marginalized communities. Most recently, she served as Program Officer and Senior Strategist for Safety at the Ms. Foundation for Women where she created a national portfolio for women and girls with a Black, queer, feminist lens. Her work on women’s rights also includes the co-founding of the #SheWoke Committee—the catalyst for the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls; established in 2016 and the co-convening of “Power Rising” – a national conference to build an agenda for Black women and girls.

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