Independent Political Action is Blooming in Columbus and Ohio

organizer screening at the historic Drexel

Columbus     Ohio has been a battleground state for a number of elections, even though it went solidly red in 2016 for Trump and seems southern with a Republican governor and legislature.  Visiting with people in the state capitol, Columbus, as well as spending time in Youngstown, Cleveland and Cincinnati, it is clear that there is a concerted grassroots fight to resist the red tide and turn Ohio around again.

I had met Amy Harkins one of the organizers of Yes, We Can Columbus at the screening of “The Organizer” and heard briefly about the effort and its attempt to elect members of the local school board and city council.  As luck would have it, I met later with Amy and some of the team after they participated in the local version of the March for Our Lives to learn more about the organization.  Like so many, they had founded the effort in the wake of the 2016 election both in reaction to the Trump victory and the inadequate response of established leadership of the local Democratic party and its electeds.  Assembling a group of up to 300 volunteers committed to the campaign, they have constructed an activist base sufficient to poll well in their inaugural efforts when they presented their slate to the voters in local elections.   Their success moved them to form alliances with other organizations in Ohio as well as nationally where they became an affiliate of the Working Families Party and a partner of the Bernie Sanders follow through organization, Our Revolution.

excitement over Nuts & Bolts in Columbus

Most of our conversation about the future concerned the chances to put an initiative on the ballot to change the at-large district governance system in the city to a district form or a combination of district and at-large seats that would give citizens of Columbus a stronger and clearer voice in local affairs.  We talked about the nuts and bolts of such efforts since ACORN has waged several successful fights along these lines including in Little Rock over the years.  In Columbus only 8000 valid voter’s signatures would be required with a full year to gather them, which should be within the capacity of Yes, We Can Columbus itself, but the organization wisely wants to also help build a larger coalition dedicated to progressive political action in the area.  Worth watching for sure!

interviewing and video at WGRN with Bob Fitrakis

Talking to Bob Fitrakis and Suzanne Patzer it was also clear that the Greens are something more than the color of grass in Columbus and Ohio as well and are regularly putting up a slate of candidates, including Bob himself who polled 35,000 votes in a losing race to become the prosecuting attorney.   One of his law partners is running for Governor as well.  Never say never in Ohio because not only is Richard Cordray, a former state attorney general and most recently the first director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau on the federal level, running for governor as well, but so is former Cleveland mayor and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

All of this anger and activity will move the needle in Ohio, so we need to all stay tuned and support these initiatives and experiments.

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Some Lessons for Labor in Unite’s 100% Campaign

London     The last several years the treat at the end of the trail has been lunch with an old friend and comrade somewhere in London’s Chinatown where we catch up on labor union developments and organizing around the world.  Given developments in the USA where unions are contemplating losses of literally millions of members if the decision of the Supreme Court on agency fees goes backwards, as most widely expect, we mined deeply for good news and were rewarded with some deep veins.

One encouraging development continues to be airport worker organizing both in the US and, importantly since this is a global industry, around the world.  The organizing has significant leverage and vital tactical strength in the impact of potential worker action in forcing the hands of airlines, airport contractors, and their legions of subcontractors.  The recent backtracking by low-cost and fiercely anti-union, Ryanair, is a prime example when pilots upended their schedule.  There’s much work to be done though even there.  Flight attendants working the aisles are paid as little as thirty euros a flight!  That airline and many others are routinely breaking all manner of European Union minimum wage and labor standards requirements, so one of the challenges, just as in North America, will be getting real enforcement of the rules.  Work is being done there that seems promising.  This is an ugly secret of worker exploitation that can’t be sustained by the EU.  Another challenge, perhaps more difficult, is within the house of labor itself where the organizing, and eventual bargaining, means moving more than thirty different unions onto the same page.  The chief negotiator better have a bottle of aspirin ready at his fingertips!

Another bright spot we discussed, that surely has international impact, has been the success of the 100% campaign by the giant UK labor union, Unite, so USA unions take note.  The campaign has focused internally where Unite had collective agreements but didn’t have workplace strength in membership, so they set their organizing department at the task of focusing on internal organizing in order to fix this weakness.  Reportedly they have netted almost 100,000 members thus far, and it is now a badge of honor in the union and a minimum standard objective to achieve 100% membership density or darned close to it in every shop.  That’s wildly important and powerful.

As right to work becomes nationalized in the US for public sector workers, just as it has been in more than half the country for years, perhaps United Kingdom unions can teach US unions something that they have tried to ignore in the challenges faced by their southern locals for decades.  These are good lessons learned from hard work.

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