Voting rights are at the core of any true democracy. As trade unionists we live by democracy. Whether voting for by-laws or in elections for union officers or shop stewards, the will of the membership reigns supreme.
And yet, unions, which are centered in, and central to democracy, have been under attack by politicians since the birth of the American labor movement.
Remember the coordinated attack on unions that began with Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislature in 2011? In 2011 and 2012 alone, we saw an avalanche of state legislation aimed at attacking the rights of workers and their unions.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, at that time:
- Four states passed laws restricting the minimum wage, four lifted restrictions on child labor, and 16 imposed new limits on benefits for the unemployed.
- States passed laws stripping workers of overtime pay, repealing or restricting sick leave, and undermining workplace safety protections.
- Legislation was introduced to make it harder for employees to recover unpaid wages and to ban local cities and counties from establishing minimum wages or sick leave policies.
- Fifteen states passed laws restricting public employees’ collective bargaining rights. While 19 states introduced “right-to-work” bills, affecting private-sector collective bargaining agreements.
Today, more and more working people are seeing that right-wing politicians, while trying to define themselves as pro-worker, are speaking against worker interests, such as extending unemployment benefits at a time of high unemployment.
This is where the power of the vote comes in. When those elected betray those who elected them, they are voted out of office. Now, with it becoming clear to politicians that the electorate is no longer buying into their charade, they want to change the rules and restrict access to the ballot. This is all being done under the guise of thwarting voter fraud. This attack on voter rights is taking place in many states, the same way that coordinated attack against labor back in 2011 and 2012 did.
The only fraud taking place these days is by those state politicians who are to making it harder for working people to get to the polls.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators introduced 361 bills this year with restrictive voting provisions in 47 states. Some have already become law. Here are just a few:
- Reducing early voting days and hours and banning or restricting the availability and hours of drop boxes.
- Criminalizing giving snacks or water to voters waiting in line to vote.
- Eliminating protections against polling place closures and consolidations.
- Limiting or banning election day registration.
- Eliminating the use of college and university ID cards as valid photo ID.
- Targeting voters with disabilities by limiting curbside voting.
- Reducing protections against voter intimidation by rolling back common sense checks on poll watchers.
The United States has always been the protector and defender of democracy. Our armed forces have fought and died to preserve and defend democracies all over the world, as well as our own precious democracy here at home.
With nearly 9,400 dead and some 1,600 missing, the American cemetery in Normandy, France is a stark reminder of the ultimate price paid to preserve democracy. Those soldiers who gave their lives in the D-Day invasion could never have imagined the anti-democratic lawmakers of today.
As we honor our war dead every Memorial Day, we must remain committed to fighting against anti-democratic forces.