Why Virginia’s Open Shop Referendum Should Matter to U.S. Labor Movement

The most important election in Virginia this year has no candidates on the ballot.
Douglas Williams
On February 2nd, the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed the two-session threshold needed to put the open shop before the Commonwealth’s voters in November. You might be asking yourself, “Wait. I thought that Virginia was already an open-shop state?” Your inclinations would be correct: legislation barring union membership as a condition of employment was signed into law by Gov. William Tuck (a later adherent to Massive Resistance in response to Brown v. Board of Educationas a member of Congress) in 1947. As a result, Section 40.1-58 of the Code of Virginia reads:

It is hereby declared to be the public policy of Virginia that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization.

So why do this? The easy answer is that Virginia Republicans are fearful that, should the open shop meet a legal challenge in state court, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring would not seek to defend it. The sponsor of the bill and defeated 2013 nominee for Attorney General, State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), stated as much in the deliberations on the bill. In addition, should the Assembly find itself in pro-labor hands in the future, they could overturn the open shop with a simple majority vote. Never mind that the extreme amounts of gerrymandering in the Assembly (particularly in the House of Delegates) makes a unified Democratic state government unlikely for decades to come.

The vote this November will be the first popular referendum on the open shop since 54 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 695 on September 25, 2001. In this, an opportunity presents itself to the labor movement in this country, and it is one that labor unions must take. Continue reading

Liberals talk about what labor should do.

by Duane Campbell

Liberals discuss labor.  Decide labor is dead. And that “progressives” are an organized force.

Kevin Drum: In Mother Jones. Why the Democratic Party has abandoned the middle class in favor of the rich?


Robert Cruickshank. On Daily Kos. Responds to the Drum piece.  Several hundred responses.


Both of these essays describe what the authors believe to be the history of labor in the recent era.  Kevin Drum argues that labor is dead.

In my own view, both of these seem to be looking at labor from the outside, relying upon news reports and third hand opinions. Fundamentally, for example, their analysis treats labor as a single, coherent entity rather than the complex combination of unions and movements. See also prior post by Harold Meyerson, Labor’s Hail Mary Pass.

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AFl-CIO President Richard Trumka on labor and the 2010 elections

Richard Trumka
AFL-CIO President

Today’s a day to be honest.

Yesterday’s election results are deeply disappointing to the millions of voters who supported working family candidates this year. Voters in this election were angry, and for good reason. They’ve felt the pain of economic collapse. And they’ve paid for it with their jobs, their homes and often their hope. Many working people knew in their gut that Washington insiders did too much to help Wall Street and the banks, and not enough to help average people.

But this election was not a mandate for an anti-worker agenda. Voters in swing congressional districts overwhelmingly reject privatizing Social Security and raising the Social Security retirement age, they oppose tax cuts for the top 2 percent who make more than $250,000 a year, they reject abolishing the Department of Education and they oppose reducing or eliminating the minimum wage.

Now that Republicans will be in control of the House of Representatives, their leaders have to step up to the plate. If they keep saying “no,” we’ll make sure voters know exactly who failed them on jobs and fixing the economy in 2012.

President Obama inherited two wars and an economy teetering on the brink of a second Great Depression. He took immediate steps to avert catastrophe. Years from now, we’ll look back and see these two years as the most eventful for working families in 40 years.

But the economy is still a mess, and we have difficult work ahead. It’s up to us to force these new members of Congress to move bold initiatives to fix our economy and put America back to work—or force them to pay the price for inaction in 2012.

America’s labor movement fought tirelessly for working families until the last polls closed on the West Coast Tuesday. I’m proud that I can count on you to jump into the fight for working families all over again, starting right now. With your help, we’ll work harder than ever to build an economy that works for everyone.

We expect critical legislative battles to take place in the coming weeks and months, with as little as 24 hours’ notice. We’ll need to alert you right away. Once you’ve watched my video, be sure to sign up for occasional, timely text messages. Just text NOW to 225568. (Message and data rates may apply.)

Obama and the Working Class

By Michael D. Yates

A recent New York Times article (‘Rural Swath of Big State Tests Obama,’ August 21, 2008) described life in the dead mill towns of western Pennsylvania and asked why Barack Obama’s presidential bid was not catching fire there. The article mentioned Beaver Falls, Aliquippa, Raccoon Township, Hopewell, Hookstown. It might have named dozens more. These are devastated places, where, the article points out, ‘Decades of job loss have created a youthful diaspora—you can knock on many doors without finding anyone under age 45. Declining enrollments forced Raccoon Township to close its elementary and middle schools.’ Barack Obama should find fertile ground there for his presidential bid. But he hasn’t. Hillary Clinton defeated him badly here, and his campaign has failed to gain traction since he sewed up the nomination. It seems that the white working class voters of western Pennsylvania are divided between their economic interests and their prejudice.

This account interested me. I am from Western Pennsylvania; I was born in a mining village and grew up in what is now a very dead mill town. Continue reading