By TIM ROWDEN
St. Louis – As unions braced for oral arguments and a widely expected negative ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the anti-union Janus v. AFSCME case, which seeks to impose “right-to-work” conditions on public-sector union members nationwide, tens of thousands of union members and their allies rallied across the country Feb. 24 in a Working People’s Day of Action to demand an end to the rigged economy.
From St. Louis to Chicago, Richmond to Philadelphia and Los Angeles to New York, workers and their allies declared enough is enough and pledged to fight back against the unrelenting attacks on working people personified in Janus and playing out in anti-worker measures being pushed in state legislatures across the country.
They pledged to stand up, speak out and fight back against corporate billionaires and their bought-and-paid-for politicians.
They pledged to fight back through organizing and through politics.
They pledged to register and to vote.
‘TODAY IS THE DAY WE MAKE OUR VOICES HEARD!’
About 150 people from various unions and allied groups gathered in the cold and misting rain on the steps of the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis Feb. 24.
“Today is the day that we gather to make our voices heard as one!” said Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO. “We need to make sure our voices are heard not just here, not just today – we have a right and a responsibility to make sure our voices are heard every day!
“Masses of people will be negatively affected if the Supreme Court hands down a decision on a case that has be brought forth – not by thousands of people – not by hundreds of people – but by a handful of billionaires. They want to bust unions. They want to make sure that unions no longer exist and take away the voice of millions of workers in their own city halls, their state capitols and in Washington D.C.,” Louis said.
Louis said the anti-union brothers Charles and David Koch –– primary funders of the anti-worker American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) –– and the equally anti-union, anti-worker Bradley Foundation “cannot tolerate that working-class Americans still have a voice in this country.”
For the last 30 years, these right-wing groups and their corporate cronies have been chipping away at union members’ and working people’s rights, spending tens of millions of dollars to impose their anti-union, anti-worker agenda on working people.
In the past decade, deep-pocketed corporate interests, conservative think tanks and right-wing foundations have bankrolled a series of lawsuits to end what they call “forced unionization.” Publicly, they say they fight in the name of “free speech,” “worker rights” and “workplace freedom.”
But behind closed doors, the same people behind these groups cheer “defunding” and “bankrupting” unions to deal a “mortal blow” to progressive politics in America.
The Janus case, which is bankrolled by the National Right to Work Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center — the litigation wing of the Illinois Policy Institute — has its origins in a lawsuit filed by Illinois’ billionaire Gov. Bruce Rauner, who issued an executive order in 2015 instructing Illinois to stop collecting fair share fees. At the same time, Rauner filed a federal lawsuit to speed the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Illinois Policy Institute and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation — joined the suit with plaintiff Mark Janus, a child-support worker employed by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
At issue is whether non-union members, who share in the wages, benefits and protections that have been negotiated into a collectively bargained contract, may be required to pay their “fair share” for the cost of those negotiations.
The premise of the case is a twisted extension of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling, also backed by conservative right-wing groups, which found that corporations are people and that their political donations represent free speech. In Janus v. AFSCME, Mark Janus argues that anything any union does is “political” and thus violates his free speech rights by collecting “fair share” fees, completely ignoring the fact that such fees can only be used to pay for contract bargaining and grievances, and nothing more.
A negatively ruling, which is widely expected, will profoundly affect the ability of some 17 million public-sector workers –– including teachers, police, fire fighters, nurses, sanitation workers, park rangers and prison guards –– to improve their wages and working conditions and threatens the right of workers to bargain with their public employer, through their democratically elected union.
FIGHTING WITH OUR VOICES AND OUR VOTES
But workers are fighting back.
“We are still standing!” Louis said at the St. Louis rally. “We still have a voice! We still have a right and a presence! And not today, not tomorrow or the next day or the next weeks, month or year are we going to stand by silently and let these greedy corporate mongers take our voices away! We will stand strong! And we will stand together.
“An attack on one working sister or brother is an attack on us all!” Louis said. “And right now, we are being attacked on all sides.
“It’s time, brothers and sisters to do your homework. Check out who is taking money from the Koch Brothers and the Bradley Foundation. Check out who is a member of and attends ALEC conferences, who votes for bills against workers and against our veterans and against our seniors. Check them out, and then spread these words:
“Register to vote!
“Rally to win!
“And vote to take out every single corrupt, evil, elitist politician while we still can!
“It’s time to vote them out!”
BECOME AN ACTIVIST
“The first thing we’ve got to do is become activists,” said Pat White, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council. You have to register yourself to vote.
“Janus v. AFSCME is nothing but an attack on the organizations that represent the people that take care of our most vulnerable citizens –– our veterans, our children, our disabled and our elderly –– and there’s no reason that we should not make our voices heard,” White said. “We have to keep the pressure on and we have to let them know that they have woken a sleeping bear.”
Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Webber said politicians like President Donald Trump and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens only act like they support working people.
“He likes to play dress-up,” Webber said of Greitens. “He’ll dress up like a fire fighter and get his picture taken and tell everyone he stands with working people.
“It’s really, really easy to say you’re with working people,” Webber said. It’s something else to actually represent them.
“If we are going to take power back in November 2018, it’s going to take all of us working together. It’s going to take all of us stepping up to run for office, knock on doors and make phone calls.”
Referring to the Republican majorities in the Missouri House and Senate, and working people’s successful signature gathering campaign to put the state’s phony anti-worker “right-to-work” legislation on the ballot for Missouri voters to decide, Rep. Bruce Franks (D-St. Louis) said, “The real veto-proof majority comes from the people.”
Kim Cook Bell, president of the St. Louis Chapter of the Coalition for Labor Union Women, said too many families are struggling, working two and three jobs just to make ends meet.
“Families have gotten disengaged,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to go out there and put some fire under some of these people to make them realize how important it is for this country to get back to the simplicity of taking care of and loving each other enough to fight.”
‘TIRED OF THEM DIVIDING US, RIGGING THE SYSTEM’
Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) said working people have to protect their freedoms and fight back against corrupt CEOs and their political lackeys.
“We are tired of them dividing us, rigging the system against us and limiting the power we have in numbers,” Nasheed said.
“We are tired of them taking away the progress that so many of us have made and fought for. Too many families across Missouri are living paycheck to paycheck. But we will tell them right here today, “Not on our watch.’”
Public service workers, civil rights leaders rally outside Supreme
Court against effort to divide working people and limit their power
Washington — Public service workers, civil rights leaders, the inter-faith community and others rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, Feb. 26 before oral arguments began in Janus v. AFSCME the divisive case backed by corporate special interests to strip working people of their freedom and limit their power to come together for their students, patients and communities. The rally at the steps outside the Supreme Court coincided with more than 500 worksite actions happening across the country and came on the heels of the Working People’s Day of Action Feb. 24, in which workers and their allies rallied in more than 29 cities and took to the streets to demand an end to a rigged economy. - Jacquelyn Martin/AP photo