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Americans are now demanding more than just crumbs

Missouri’s rejection of ‘right-to-work’ is just the latest sign that, despite the right’s best efforts to divide-and-conquer working people, unions are on the rise.



(Aug. 10, 2018) — Something is happening in America. Missouri, riding a nationwide wave of victories for working people, on Tuesday became the first state in history to overturn a so-called right-to-work law by popular vote.

It was an incredible display of the labor movement’s capacity to win change. Despite the corporate right wing’s best efforts, Missourians saw through the tired campaign of fear and misdirection. A clever name for a ploy to lower wages, endanger workers and undermine unions, “right to work” has always been a sham.

Working people are heading in a different direction. It’s an uprising unlike any I’ve seen in my 50 years in the labor movement. From crowds of striking teachers speaking out for fair treatment to an entire generation of young workers rejecting a broken status quo, Americans are demanding more than the crumbs we’ve been handed by corporate and political elites.

Pundits jumped to write unions’ obituary after Janus v. Afscme. But we have never depended on any politician or judge to validate our movement. More than 260,000 workers joined unions in 2017—75% of them under 35. That momentum has carried into 2018. In a single week this April, 15,000 workers joined unions, from Harvard graduate assistants and Stanford nurses to JetBlue flight attendants and New Republic reporters. With labor unions’ popularity at its highest point in nearly 15 years, MIT found that nearly half of nonunion workers would vote to organize today if given the opportunity.

Tuesday’s victory was a high point in a defining year for workers. With this win under our belt, we’re setting our sights on November. We’re preparing to sweep the country by doing what organizers do best: talk to each other. Union members are having conversations about the issues important to us at our jobs and in our daily lives.

This is about fighting for the change we need and electing advocates who will advance the cause, no matter what party they belong to. By leading with our agenda, we have elected pro-worker champions in Alabama, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and more.

Whether it’s expanding the labor movement, bargaining life-changing contracts, rewriting the rules of the economy, or filling the halls of power with our allies, unions are on the rise. Missouri is the latest sign of a groundswell. Working people are just getting started.

Richard Trumka is President of the AFL-CIO. This opinion column originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

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