International Workers’ Day and “Right to Work”

I wanted to write up a long post about May Day today and discuss the disappointment on the left around how little support this important day has in the United States.  I’ve discussed the decline in organized labor in the U.S. several times on this blog and I’m sure it will come up again, but I didn’t find the time to put out a quality post today.

Then I read that the Ohio legislature is up to their old tricks again.

Most of you will recall the melee in Madison a couple of years back when freshly elected Republican governor Scott Walker decided to go after organized labor in that state.  One hundred thousand or more protesters packed the statehouse in response while the corporate media talked about “union thugs” and “greedy teachers.”  The police, usually called upon to cast out the riff raff in ugly situations such as these, were key members of the coalition this go-round.  While Madison was the epicenter of this quake, the largest aftershock was felt five hundred miles away in Columbus where thousands gathered to protest Senate Bill 5.

Senate Bill 5, to be clear, took away the rights of public sector workers to organize.  It also eliminated teacher negotiations of class size and tied their scores to standardized testing scores.  One of the more damning provisions would allow the state to arrest and jail strikers.  It was a direct, fierce and unwavering attack on the rights of public sector workers throughout the state, and while the people stood just outside and shouted their disapproval, the legislature plugged their ears and signed away.  As expected, when the bill hit his desk for final approval, anti-working class governor John Kasich happily obliged.

So that was that, right?  Well, not exactly.  You see, this wasn’t just a casual protest.  These folks were quite serious about protecting their brothers and sisters across the state.  They took to the streets and managed to get a repeal of Senate Bill 5 on the ballot through the good old referendum process, in which they were required to collect 231,000 signatures from Ohio voters and turn them in to the state.

They collected the 231,000.  Then they collected over one million more, just to be safe.  It shattered the previous record for a referendum in Ohio by well over 400,000 signatures.

Then the state decided to use awkward language in which a YES vote wouldn’t signify that,  yes, you want to overturn Senate Bill 5… it would mean yes, you support Senate Bill 5.  Fortunately, the local press did a somewhat formidable job pointing this out and the referendum (and SB5) were defeated by a resounding margin of 23 points.

That would be the end of the attacks on collective bargaining in Ohio.

Except it wasn’t.  Yesterday, the day before International Workers’ Day, two Republican legislators in the state took the first steps to introduce two new bills regarding unions and how to bust them.  Both bills are of the ever-popular “Right to Work” variety, wherein the employer can simply hire around the union as a means of suppression, and this time, one of the bills even attacks private sector unions.

Perhaps it’s a divide-and-conquer strategy, but I have my doubts.  Public and private sector organized labor both realize that they’re in a bind and they came together two years ago to protect the teachers, firefighters, and other public sector workers.  My belief is that all organized labor will pull together again, tasked with defeating both bills in solidarity, but I’ll admit that I’ve been disappointed before.  After all, Wisconsin got their recall election, but somehow they still ended up with Walker.

Regardless, it’s ballsy to walk away from an overwhelming defeat and the hands of your constituents and then come back two years later with an even more damning set of legislation, and then introduce those bills on the day before labor commemorates another major attack on unions, the Haymarket Affair.  For those who aren’t aware, May Day is an official celebration of labor in over eighty countries, and coincides with an event where workers striking for an eight hour day were assaulted by the police, resulting in four murdered strikers.  To introduce these bills — in this state — at this time — reeks of a sort of brash disregard for constituents that’s hard to fathom.

We stand at a crossroads again in Ohio, but what happens if we stand strong enough to defeat these attacks again?  How can we get the message across to lawmakers in such a way that they start serving us, the way it’s supposed to be?  How can we get the message across to voters to stop electing legislators who clearly don’t have our best interests in mind?  How do we ensure that they give up before the workers give up?

It’s a tough set of questions, for sure, but we have more pressing matters today.  These bills are in search of co-sponsors and then it’s on to the floor.  It appears that we need to make our voices heard once again in Ohio.  Who will stand with us on the Statehouse when and if this bill comes to a vote?

Remember:  You do not need to be in a union to benefit from the work they do.  Eight hour work days, overtime pay, sick time, vacations, safety regulations and more were rights fought for, and won, by the unions.  As the income gap widens and unemployment remains a painful problem across the country, organized labor shows solidarity among the workers to ensure job stability and fair wages.  This benefits all of us, and I will be happy to stand beside these hard working people, because I know an injury to one is an injury to all.