The past decade has seen the most concerted assault on labor rights since the Gilded Age days of the robber barons. Corporate-sponsored governors and state legislators have, since they swept to power in the “Republican wave” year of 2010, used their positions to attack workers and the unions that represent them.
While most Americans are familiar with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s open war on organized labor, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and his legislative allies have been just as bad. Ohio Governor John Kasich tried to mimic Walker and was stopped only by a citizen-veto referendum campaign. In state after state, Republican governors and legislators have been overturning the collective-bargaining rights of public employees, erecting barriers to union organizing and political activism, attacking prevailing-wage protections, and passing so-called “right-to-work” laws.
Backed by the sophisticated networks established by the billionaire Koch brothers and other anti-union zealots, the Republicans have had considerable success. But now, as Democrats seek to retake states across the country in the 2018 election cycle—and to hold on to states where they are currently in charge—the question is whether they are prepared to absolutely and unequivocally oppose anti-labor legislating by corporate-aligned politicians.
There are no guarantees in this regard. Plenty of Democrats talk a good game when it comes to labor rights. But defending the ability to organize and collectively bargain where it currently exists, and restoring protections where they have been torn up by right-wing governors and legislators, will not be easy. It will require vigilance, focus and a determination to establish pro-worker coalitions that can beat the money and lobbying power of the corporate interests that do not want a level-playing field in the workplace or in our politics.
That means that candidates running in states where anti-union laws have been enacted—in some cases long ago, in other cases during the current Gilded Age—must make it clear that they are ready to reverse them. Iowa gubernatorial candidate Cathy Glasson, an intensive-care nurse and Service Employees International Union activist, is doing just that, with a campaign that says: “I’m running for Governor to make it easier for all Iowans to join a union or employee association no matter where they work. That’s the best way to raise wages, improve our working conditions and fix the rigged economy in our state. And workers all over Iowa have told us they want it at their job.”
Glasson’s Democratic gubernatorial primary platform announces that she will “stand up to these corporate bullies and stop their assault on working people by… helping thousands more working people form a union by supporting the elimination of so-called ‘right-to-work laws’ in Iowa.”
In Colorado, state legislative candidate Emily Sirota has taken things a step further. Sirota is shredding the corporate interests that seek to shred worker rights.
Colorado does not have a “right-to-work” law on the books. But anti-labor campaigners have been active in the state; just last year, Republicans in the Colorado Atate Senate endorsed “right-to-work” legislation. Like Wisconsin and Iowa, Colorado is a historic battleground state. As such, it’s a safe bet that, if Republicans were to win the governorship and both houses of the state legislature this fall, labor rights would be under immediate threat.
Sirota is making it abundantly clear that, as a legislator, she would be prepared to answer that threat with a bold pro-labor stance.
After initially challenging a compromised Democratic incumbent, who was forced out of the race when he did not gain sufficient support from party activists, Sirota is currently running in a June 26 party primary. In addition to an endorsement from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, she highlights the support she has received from the Colorado AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers of America and the Colorado Working Families Party.
But she does not stop there.
When the “Colorado Citizens for Right-to-Work” group sent a letter soliciting Sirota’s positions on labor issues, she posted a video of herself holding the letter. “We just received the candidate questionnaire from the Right to Work group,” she announced. “Here’s our response.” The video then shows the candidate feeding the questionnaire into a paper shredder.
“A war is being waged on workers and their right to join unions. In this election, we can’t accept vague platitudes—we must elect legislators who are explicit in supporting union rights and who will defend workers who join unions,” explains Sirota. “I’m that kind of candidate…”