New Orleans In a wild case of unintended consequences the current Republican attack on unions in New Jersey, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio could end up insuring the re-election of President Obama and possibly save public sector unionism at the same time though like all political struggles it would be a high stakes gamble.
How? We could do this by upping the ante and putting protection of collective bargaining on the 2012 ballot with the Presidential election in Ohio, perhaps still the most critical of all battleground states.
Wisconsin has the right of recall and this is being engaged currently by unions and others in reaction to Governor Scott Walker’s moves to eviscerate public sector worker collective bargaining rights. This was the successful strategy in California several years ago fueled by Congressman Darrell Issa’s resources which dislodged Governor Gray Davis within two years of his election and then replacing him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Wisconsin does not have a initiative and referendum procedure at the state level, so despite positive opinion polls in the state currently to protect bargaining there is no way to get there from here. Neither New Jersey nor Indiana allow statewide initiatives and referenda, though about 20% of New Jersey’s local jurisdictions do so depending on the map this could be an opportunity to construct a tactical and strategic bulwark against some of the more draconian measures being proposed by Governor Christie there.
Were protections for union workers on the ballot in Ohio in 2012 there is no question it would energize the low-and-moderate income base, and this was certainly in evidence several years ago when ACORN and allies moved to put an increase in the minimum wage on the ballot there. A revitalized labor movement in Ohio aligned with Obama there could make a huge difference in securing his re-election. Tactical protective initiatives in Missouri, Nevada, Washington, and similar states that are important in the Obama column could also be important, and in several of these states workers are desperate for more protections.
There are two problems. First, it takes a huge effort to put a measure on the ballot, mount the campaign, and hang on for the victory more than 18 months from now with the same fervor labor is showing today, even though now is the absolute perfect time to be preparing for just such efforts. Secondly, Ohio is one of the few states that allow off-year initiatives, and given the current assault there are undoubtedly many pushing an immediate effort to place the measure on the ballot in Ohio for the fall of 2011.
A 2011 effort – and victory – might also break well for both labor and Obama if it finally proved again that these were fighting times and we had the will and way to win. The residue of such a struggle and success might embed deeply enough to secure deeper participation in Ohio and still put Ohio in the best place for a union future and an Obama second term.
Either way these are not times for holding your cards, but demand laying down big bets while it’s still possible and it’s we are still a player in the game.