On June 20, 2018, I gave a keynote speech to delegates from Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and the Dakotas at the Electricians’ Union’s 11th District annual meeting in Dubuque Iowa.  These dedicated trade unionists are waging a determined years-long struggle against relentless anti-union, anti-worker attacks from right wing politicians and their billionaire corporate sponsors.  I was honored and privileged to learn directly from workers who had won tremendous victories in Iowa.  They inspired me and proved we can win big in the Age of Trump.

What happened?  What can we learn from their successes?

In 2017, state and local government workers, both union and non-union, voted overwhelmingly to keep their unions in their workplaces.  The results were phenomenal.  Pro-union voters won 436 of 468 elections.  The cumulative statewide pro-union vote was 28,448; the no vote 624.  A 98% pro-union vote.  88% of potential voters voted.  A significant number of non-union workers voted to keep the union in place.  They knew that the union protects them even if they chose to not be a member.  This is truly historic and unprecedented.  Wow!  Who ever heard of an election with an 88% turnout with a 98% yes vote?

After years of relentless public sector union busting in states like Wisconsin, unions and workers in Iowa had learned from these defeats.  They clearly demonstrated that a strategy of talking to every worker, one-on-one, can rally people toward justice and standing up for their rights. 

Where did these elections come from?  In 2017, the anti-union, anti-worker governor and legislature passed a new collective bargaining law which drastically rolled back 43 years of collective bargaining rights for state and local government workers.  In most cases, they can only bargain over base wages with a legislative cap on wages.  They can no longer bargain over health insurance, other benefits, performance evaluations, layoffs, and other worker and union rights they had for decades. All this with virtually no public debate.

The new requirements for union elections and future contract bargaining were very undemocratic.  Prior to bargaining a new contract, a new election must be held to determine if the workers in the bargaining unit still want the union.  Here is the kicker.  In order for pro-union workers to win the election, they had to get a majority of votes of everyone who is eligible to vote, not merely the majority of people who voluntarily choose to vote.  If a worker did not vote, it counted as an anti-union vote.  Yes, you read this right. For example, a 500-worker bargaining unit election would require 251 yes votes to retain the union.  A vote of 250 yes votes and 0 no votes would result in the union being voted out. 

Where is the justice and fairness in these requirements?  There is none.  Stripping workers of their rights and denying them the right to advance their common interests was the goal.
If this majority of all eligible voters was applied to our national and state elections, no one would have ever been elected President.  For example, Lyndon Johnson set the record for highest popular vote with 61% in 1964 with a voter turnout of 61%.  He only received 37% of the potential eligible voters.

Why is this story important? It clearly demonstrates that working people are not powerless in the face of vicious anti-worker and anti-union attacks.  It shows that a strategy of reaching out to all voters, face to face, can prevail against deeply undemocratic rules that are intended to kill democracy and workers’ rights.  It required that many previously inactive members to get active.  Sitting by was not an option.

If our sisters and brothers in Iowa can win big like this, certainly people like us over the country can do the same in union and political elections.  Let’s take heart from these big wins.  We must remember that we are the people we have been waiting for to change our country.  No one is going to do it for us.  It is time we acted like we know this to be true.

Where do you find hope and inspiration in Age of Trump? Please comment to our blog!

Our next  blog will focus on how state and local government workers did it - how they got the job done.