Memo to the Anti-Union Crowd, Not in Our State, Ask Steve Glazer

Nurses on strikeIn a low turnout primary election earlier this month, California political analysts had to scurry to find messages from the voters. Here’s one that some missed. We’re not ready to turn into the latest cookie-cutter anti-union state.

What would you call California if we lost our vital labor movement? A state that looks a lot like what has happened in Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, all of which recently enacted laws intended to decimate labor unions.

In so-called right to work states, now including Michigan and Indiana, wages average $1,500 a year less, fewer employers offer health insurance, and workplace deaths are higher.

In Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker boasted of a coming economic boon after his high profile attack on unions, less than a third of the jobs he promised have materialized and funding for schools has plummeted.

At their best, unions are a voice not just for their members, but for all everyone who falls within that broad demographic swath we might call the working class, or the 99 percent.

That means not just taking a stand in the workplace for a decent quality of life for workers, but for safer workplaces and public settings. It means fighting for economic justice, for health security and quality care, for better schools, for decent housing for all. It means speaking out for a clean and safe environment and the ability to retire in dignity.

It’s why voters in California’s 16th Assembly District chose not to send a Democratic version of Scott Walker to Sacramento.

Steve Glazer had hoped to win his election from that district on a platform of demonizing labor unions, especially for public employees.

His call to “ban transit strikes,” blazoned on billboards and broadcast on radio and TV ads across the Bay Area, were the underpinnings of a broader goal to permanently weaken California’s labor movement.

Without the right to strike unions have little effective means to protect the living standards of their members and their families, and to work on behalf of the public safety issues that received so little media notice during the BART fight last year.

What Glazer and his corporate and conservative funders surely know is that shredding the rights and strength of public workers unions is a major opening shot toward rolling back the rights of workers in private sector unions as well.

The success of far right, anti-union national actors, such as the Koch Brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), in eviscerating union and worker rights in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana, often by targeting public employees first, illustrate the point.

An assault on unions is also intended to diminish the voice of working people in state politics, where unions are often the only ones able to challenge the profit-focused priorities of wealthy corporate powers.

Glazer adopted his anti-worker election strategy after working as a $15,000-per-month consultant to the California Chamber of Commerce, the lobbying arm of corporate California that has long used its outside influence in Sacramento to bury legislation for safer workplaces, rights for workers, and public protections it deems would dent profits.

During Glazer’s tenure, major funders of the group included tobacco giant Phillip Morris, along with pharmaceutical companies, banks, and oil companies, all of whom are frequently at odds with workers and public interest advocates.

The business love continued after Glazer left the Chamber and jumped into his race.  The conservative California Real Estate PAC spent nearly $1.9 million hoping to elect him, with additional funding from the Chamber.

Vilifying unions does not make one a “maverick” or an “independent,” especially when your campaign is financed by major corporate interests, and the voters were not deceived.

Working men and women, including many union members, were able to break through the glitzy ads and media endorsements by some old fashioned grassroots politicking. Nurses, teachers, and firefighters, along with former students of candidate Tim Sbranti, who finished well ahead of Glazer, talked to voters in the hundreds.

California is no closer to becoming another notch in the belt for the Koch brothers.  Working people and the communities whose interests we share were successful in uniting to stop this attack and our collective ability to fight for the social and economic justice issues that impact all of us –from healthcare to environmental protections and workplace safety standards.

There’s a lesson for California’s political establishment, too.  Glazer said his goal was also, “redefining what it means to be a Democrat” in California.  Voters in the 16h Assembly District sent a different message. We don’t need any Scott Walker-lights in California, even those who brand themselves Democrats in a blue state.

Even with the low turnout, the June election was a reminder that in California big business is not the only voice that matters.  Working people understand we need to keep on fighting, and knowing that with unity we can win.

Just ask Steve Glazer.

Deborah Burger is a registered nurse and co-president of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.