Many of today's "red" states have historically had strong trade union movements — think of Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin — but after Citizens United opened the floodgates to dark money from the super-rich in state politics, the states saw their legislatures fill up with ideologue Republicans who passed anti-union laws designed to weaken labor and allow employers to pay their workers less, cut their benefits, fire them more easily, and subject them to less safe, less dignified working conditions.
Missouri's anti-union "right to work" law was signed into law last year by the state's disgraced, loathsome (now ex-)governor, Eric Greitens. At the time, it seemed the fix was in: between voter suppression campaigns and gerrymandering, the Missouri legislature was effectively insulated from the will of the people it governed, able to secure re-election by doing the dirty work of the state's wealthy elite to the detriment of the state's majority of (disenfranchised) working people.
But Missourians fought back. The state's trade unions canvassed for signatures to put the right to work law on the ballot during the August special election. The law was so unpopular that the AFL-CIO was able to get more than 300,000 signatures on direct ballot petition (they only needed 100,000), and when Missourians went to the polls this week, they easily carried the day — and the law is dead, with 65% of Missourians voting to kill it.
Missouri organizers say that the 1% have awakened a "sleeping giant": that working people have woken up to the risk posed by the concentration of money into fewer and fewer hands, the hoarding of America's prosperity, the distorting of its policies, and they are not going to take it anymore.
The special election was also a litmus test for Missouri politicians: many of the politicians who campaigned to keep unions down during this race are up for re-election in November, and the triumphant labor activists who scored this victory will make sure voters are reminded of their representatives' positions when those campaigns kick off.
"Working people needed 100,000 signatures to get that issue on the ballot. We submitted over 300,000," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a speech Tuesday, anticipating a positive outcome for unions. "Working people are writing a comeback story unlike any I've seen in my 50 years in the labor movement."
The Missouri vote represents a victory for unions in a political landscape that is increasingly hostile toward them. The state's debate received national attention after the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to public-sector unions in June. In that case, Janus v. AFSCME, the justices ruled it is unconstitutional to require "nonconsenting employees" to pay fees to unions.
"Anti-union forces awoke a sleeping giant," says Philip Dine, a former labor reporter and author of State of the Unions. "I think unions have become energized and realize they have to fight back."
'Anti-Union Forces Awoke a Sleeping Giant': Voters Overturn a New Anti-Union Law [Candice Norwood/Governing]
(via Naked Capitalism)