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Are unions winning the US Mid-West?

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Missouri's vote to reject damaging right to work laws is a major victory for the trade union movement. If they can change things there, we can change things everywhere

On Tuesday, the mid-western state of Missouri voted two to one to reject a right to work law, a law common in the deep south that’s been credited with reducing wages and union organisation.

It’s a major victory for the trade union movement, and it strikes at the heart of Trump’s electoral strategy.

The TUC welcomes the successful efforts of trade unionists in the USA.

If they can change things in Missouri, we can change things everywhere.

Some background

Missouri used to be known as a ‘bell-wether’ state. For a hundred years to 2004, the state voted for whoever won the Presidency. But Obama lost there in both his successful campaigns, and Trump won in 2016 by 57% to 38%.

The state has been trending Republican in gubernatorial, senate and house races, so it was no surprise when the former Republican state governor did the bidding of his big business backers and signed a ‘right to work’ law before resigning in favour of his Republican successor, Mike Parson.

This isn’t fertile ground for trade unions, which represent only 8.7% of employees (less than the 10.7% nationally).

What are 'right to work' laws?

Right to work laws force unions with employer recognition to represent workers regardless of whether they pay membership dues. But US unions insist that everyone in such workplaces has to pay dues, whether they are members or not.

Republicans have forced right-to-work laws (or ‘right-to-work-for-less’ as unions call them) onto the statute books in just over half of the US states.

The Supreme Court has also just ruled (in the Janus case) that state employees cannot be forced to pay dues. That’s why the Missouri law was such a key issue for unions.

To force a state-wide vote on the issue, unions needed to get 100,000 signatures on a petition. They got 300,000, and on Tuesday Missouri citizens voted two to one to overturn the law.

This is a massive victory for US unions in a now-conservative state.

And as Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis explained, the victory was down to the campaigning efforts of the state’s working people:

Thousands of hardworking men and women in Missouri talked to their neighbors, friends and co-workers. We owe them this victory. Together, we knocked on more than 800,000 doors, made more than 1 million phone calls and talked to working people on more than 1,000 different job sites across the state.

On Wednesday, the AFL-CIO, the TUC’s sister organisation in the USA, hailed the victory: “something big is happening with America’s working people - something that will bring change - and last night was just the latest evidence of this groundswell.”

Its President, Rich Trumka, said: “The victory in Missouri follows a national wave of inspiring activism that is leading to life-changing collective bargaining agreements and electoral triumphs that remind America the path to power runs through the labor movement.”

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