By CARL GREEN
Sauget, IL – It was like the All-Star Game at GCS Ball Park on Sept. 24, with a bright sun, green grass and refreshments. But instead of baseball players, the line-up featured some of the biggest names in the Labor Movement.
Among them were Phil Gruber, Midwest Territory vice president for the Machinists; Rick Terven Sr., executive vice president of the United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters; Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers; and Mike Millsap, District 7 director for United Steelworkers.
Their message? It often boiled down to the belief that if Labor wants to continue as a viable force, its people have to show up at the polls to counter-act the billions that anti-union forces are freely spending to defeat Labor’s political allies, from the Presidential election down to local races.
“Who are we going to allow to take the lead?” said Gruber. “From the top of the ticket to the bottom, will it be a party of hate and income inequality, or will it be a party of inclusion and income equality? I don’t need to tell you there’s a lot at stake in this election. You’ve seen the news, and you’ve seen the rhetoric.
“The real proof will be in voter turnout. It’s time to get out the vote! On Election Day, a campaign is only as good as its ground game. We cannot have a lax attitude and think our members are simply going to turn up at the polls.”
Rick Terven reminded those listening that what is decided this Election Day will affect union members and their families for years to come.
“Everybody knows how important politics is, and sometimes, we all wish it wasn’t so important,” he said. “But the reality is this: All of these elections that we are dealing with, at every level, whether federal, state or local, are absolutely critical, especially to working families. The candidates we elect – whether it’s the president, governor, legislator, county board member, mayor or whatever – all those positions have significant power. We can’t let that escape!”
IT’S NOT TRUMP
Labor supporters listened for more than two hours under a hot sun in the right-field stands of the ballpark.
Congressional candidate C.J. Baricevic of Belleville brought his sense of humor along while serving as master-of-ceremonies.
“Donald Trump is the biggest phony I’ve ever met,” Terven said. “He is by far the worst candidate that I’ve ever seen get nominated for president. He finds no value in what we do, whatsoever.
“He talks a good game, tries to suck us in and play off the fears of those who are unemployed, but I can tell you what he does. He doesn’t pay his bills, he gets his hands in the coffers, he gets millions in grants and then he walks away and doesn’t pay the contractors who have to pay us.”
Dan Montgomery described how teachers view Trump.
“He wants to eliminate every federal dollar for education. In this area, and around this state, massive amounts of the teaching force and support staff are employed because of Title 1 and federal dollars,” Montgomery said.
“Do you know how many people – teachers and support staff – would be out of jobs if Donald Trump had his way? Do you know how many school districts would be in crisis if Donald Trump would have his way? We cannot allow that to happen!”
Gruber said Hillary Clinton has shown herself to be a strong ally of Labor, including her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
“It’s imperative that Labor does everything it can to elect the first female president,” he said. “Hillary Clinton has promised to stand with us on TPP. She does not support the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. She’s been open and she’s been very direct about her opposition to job-killing trade deals throughout the campaign.”
As much as the speakers railed against Trump, they were even more urgent in calling on voters not to submit to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s relentless and misleading television campaign against Labor-supporting legislators and candidates, such as state Rep. Dan Beiser (D-Alton), and Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville), who is challenging Rep. Dwight Kay.
Rauner isn’t up for election this time, but voting for his surrogates has the same effect as voting for him, Terven warned.
“This governor came in as a fluke. He’s already spent $15 million to put elected Labor candidates out of business,” he said. “We don’t have to be told what Bruce Rauner is like. We all know it. We see it every day. He doesn’t want to work with families. He wants to dominate and buy the election.”
Montgomery described how one of Rauner’s first acts as governor was to sue teachers at the Illinois School for the Deaf because they wanted to join the union.
“They had the temerity to stand up for their rights and say they wanted to be in the union,” he said. “And that’s what he wants to end – not just for teachers but all working people – he wants to lower our standard of living.
“These public servants work for us, they work for the interests of regular people,” he added. “They don’t work for the interests of the corporations. Without them, Bruce Rauner would have his way, and Donald Trump would have his way, and we can’t forget that. The path to middle-class jobs and rebuilding this economy leads through people like C.J. Baricevic. We have to commit like we’ve never committed before.”
International trade and the effect it has on American workers was a major topic of the rally, led by Mike Millsap of the Steelworkers, who described job losses not just here, but in Texas, Alabama and Ohio. He called for stronger trade laws.
“The United States economy is the most open market in the world, and our market is under attack and has been for a long time,” he said. “Not only do our trade laws need to be enforced, they need to be repaired. Almost every manufacturing industry in the U.S. today is under attack from illegal imports. We need to rebuild our highways and bridges, and we need to do so with American-made products.”
He described how U.S. companies, including U.S. Steel, have won long, expensive and complicated trade cases only to see illegal importers use loopholes or time limits to get around the decisions.
“Our laws aren’t strong enough to protect industries and jobs,” Millsap said. “Many cases aren’t filed because it’s so expensive to file. It takes years just to go through the process. By that time, companies have struggled to the point where they’ve shut down or the job loss has become permanent. The harm sometimes can’t be undone.”
Eventually, it becomes a security issue when the nation can’t make its own defense armaments, he said.
“What’s going to happen when we’re not making aluminum, and we have to call China and say, ‘Send us the aluminum so we can build our warships, so we can build our planes, so we can defend this country? What are we going to do – call on India or Russia?
“If we’re not making steel, who’s going to make our tanks? Our weapons? Our ammunition? We’re going to call China? Are you serious? The U.S. needs to wake up. It truly is a matter of national security.”
“Damn right!” cried a random voice from the audience.
Several public officials and candidates appeared at the rally, among them St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern, state Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) and Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs. Kern and Hoffman are running for re-election.
Frerichs jumped right into the presidential election.
“If you just listen to the two candidates at the national level, you can tell a big difference between what it is to be a Republican and what it is to be a Democrat,” he said.
“If you listen to Hillary, she says we are stronger together. We as Democrats understand that. If you listen to Donald Trump, it is all ‘I’ – I built that, I did that. We in organized Labor know that no one does anything by themselves. A house, a building, a stadium doesn’t get built by one person. It takes people to lay a strong foundation.
“We as Democrats know that we’re all in this together. The Republicans think they can do it all by themselves.”
Hoffman described how voting records show the difference between Democrats and Republicans in the Illinois legislature.
“Not one Democrat elected to the House or the Senate has under an 85 percent voting record with Organized Labor – not one. Now look at the other side. Not one Republican in the House or the Senate – not one! – has over a 40 percent lifetime voting record with Organized Labor.”
Dwight Kay, for instance, the incumbent Republican from Glen Carbon, is now at less than 20 percent.
“That means eight of 10 times a vote is cast that is important to Labor, working families or retirees, he has voted against you and your families,” Hoffman said. “That’s why if you live in Katie Stuart’s district, you’ve got to work like there’s no tomorrow and defeat Dwight Kay and vote for Katie Stuart.”
THE EPIC BATTLE
The TV commercials run against Dan Beiser (D-Alton) don’t reveal why he is such a target, Hoffman added.
“The Rauner machine of money is spending millions to try to defeat him. Why? He serves on the Labor Committee. He works with me on a daily basis, when it comes to making sure that the Rauner agenda is killed. He’s been a voice for you. Rauner and his billionaire buddies don’t like him. They want to get rid of Dan Beiser.”
To Hoffman, it’s an epic battle unfolding.
“It’s very simple. When you go tell your neighbors what this is about, it’s really about working families versus billionaires,” he said. “The things that people in this crowd have fought for for many years are at stake.
“You need to help us help you. If you continue to work hard, we’re going to get elected and working families are going to continue to have a voice in Springfield. This is an epic battle, an epic battle that I believe is about good versus evil.”