An Example for Others: St. Louis County Dems Sponsor Educational Meeting to Understand Labor’s Issues, Unite vs. Right Wing

ST. LOUIS –The need for Democrats and unions to work together to help educate their own friends, neighbors, members and co-workers — and Republicans who will listen to reason — about the critical issues facing working families was the focus of an educational forum in August in St. Louis County, the first of several.

The meeting’s purpose was to help activist Democrats understand the key issues facing organized labor.  Those issues impact not only union members and families, but all working Missourians regardless of whether or not they are union members.

The St. Louis meeting is important to workers and unions nationwide as an example of what they must do to educate their friends and neighbors about workers’ rights and their importance to individual families and their income, how they’re in danger, how unions – uniquely – protect them, and who’s leading the attack.

Such education has been woefully lacking in the labor movement, a point the AFL-CIO convention will consider in September.

“We all need to be messengers that this attack on unions is an attack on everyone who lives in Missouri,” said Jeff Aboussie, St. Louis Building Trades Council executive secretary-treasurer, one of the three panelists outlining labor’s issues to the 75 activists who attended.

“The clergy, the small businessman, educators, everyone needs to understand that this assault on unions is an assault on everyone; they must become messengers to educate others as to the dangers we all face.”

Tragically, added another panelist, State Sen. Gina Walsh (D), many of our own children went to college on the money their union parents earned at well-paying union jobs, but those kids don’t understand the issues and are not standing with us.

The meeting was the first in a series sponsored by the St. Louis County Democratic Central Committee to help educate rank-and-file Democrats about labor issues and the efforts to castrate unions that will be made in the next session of the Missouri legislature, said Committee Chairman Matt Robinson, a member of Sprinkler Fitters Local 268 and mayor of Hazelwood, in opening the session.

As labor unions are like the central nervous system of the Democratic Party, it’s the key reason the Right-Wing Republicans controlling both houses of the legislature are so intent on destroying the union movement in Missouri, one guest told the Labor Tribune. That Right Wing campaign to destroy unions is nationwide, too.

The panel explaining workers’ issues to the assembled Missouri Democrats included state senator Walsh, who is also President of the Missouri State Building Trades Council, Missouri AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Mike Louis and Aboussie.

“Don’t be fooled that we were successful in stopping the assault of labor this past session,” Walsh warned, noting one prominent Republican came up to her after the last legislative session in which most anti-labor bills were defeated and said, “…it’s not over, we’ll be back next year… and we will be successful.”

The anti-worker, anti-union forces in the legislature “will be back next year even stronger,” she cautioned.  That, too, has been a pattern in other states.

Walsh said 25 anti-worker bills were introduced in the last state legislative session.  The Radical Right anti-worker ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) funded by the extremist, Right-Wing Koch brothers and 300 of the Fortune 500 companies, crafted 21 of them and GOP lawmakers introduced them by rote.

“The Republicans didn’t even know what the bills really do, they had no idea, but ALEC gave them the bills, and money for their campaigns, so they were introduced,” she said.

Louis took a step back and said clearly there are a number of Missouri Republicans who do indeed understand the issues and support labor’s issues, voting against the radical element in their own party, “not necessarily on social issues, but certainly on our core issues,” because they understand that value that labor unions bring to the state’s economy.  There are similar Republicans, but not many, nationally.

But he admitted many Republicans simply do not understand the issues and the real impact on workers and the state’s economy.  “We have to take the time to educate them, and that’s everyone’s responsibility,” he warned.

In Missouri, Republicans hold supermajorities in both houses of the legislature and “we have to do something about that” if Missouri is to stop its anti-worker onslaught, Louis said.  “Thank God for (Democratic) Gov. Jay Nixon and his veto power.  If it wasn’t for that, we’d be seeing every evil issue become law in Missouri.”

Much of the session concentrated on a renewed Right Wing effort to add Missouri to the list of so-called “Right To Work” states.  RTW, a key Right Wing cause since the late 1950s, is also a top part of the overall Radical Right anti-worker, anti-union agenda.  It robs unions of funds they need to fight for workers, by making dues optional and allowing thousands of “free riders” – whom unions must still represent.

“Remember, when union workers gain a benefit, every worker gets that benefit, so non-union workers benefit as well,” Aboussie told the group.

He explained “right to work” injects government into the relationship between an employer and his employees.  “Even if the company believes working with a union is in their best interests – and there are a lot that do – this law would prevent them from agreeing to have all employees belong to a union and prevent the union and the company from working together.”

The phony law would allow someone getting representation from the union in terms of pay, benefits and support to decide to not pay union dues or even a fair share fee if they didn’t want to be a union member.

Aboussie said to belong to the Chamber of Commerce, the Bar Association or any group, members must pay dues to get the benefit of the organization.

“Under federal law, the union has to represent all workers so it will mean spending the dues money of members to support and fight for the rights of non-members if ‘Right-to-Work’ (for less) becomes law.

“This is nothing more than a right-to-worse law because history proves it lowers wages across the board and makes it worse, not only for union members, but all workers.  That means things get worse for the doctor, the grocer, the florist, the cleaners – the entire economy.

“Remember, union families are spenders.  They spend their paychecks and that goes into the local economy and everyone benefits.  The reverse is true: Worse wages means a lot worse business for local businesses and the entire economy suffers.  Less money means worse schools, worse local services and so much more,” Aboussie said.

Pat Kammer, business manager of Operating Engineers Local 513, commented we have to fight these issues when they come up, not look to make some compromise and then hope to “fix” an issue in a future legislature.  He noted the compromise made on a prevailing wage change passed this past session that involves maintenance.

“We don’t want to pick a fight, but the other side — too many who are not so honorable — need to know we are ready to fight,” he said to applause.  “This is not just an effort to come after the unions, it’s an effort to cripple the middle class, to turn back the clock, to make slaves of the 99% for the benefit of the 1%,” Aboussie said.

– By Ed Finkelstein
Publisher, The St. Louis Labor Tribune