Bill Moore: To act together, we’ve got to get together


Bill Moore is president of the Minnesota State Retiree Council, AFL-CIO.

GOP tightens grip on white working class,” read the headline on an Oct. 31 Wall Street Journal story datelined Aitkin, Minn. The story reported how Democrats have been losing their hold on rural Congressional districts with largely white populations, where incomes lag the national average and college graduates are relatively sparse. The authors quoted men breakfasting at Aitkin’s Birchwood Café who said they formerly were Democrats, but planned to vote for Stewart Mills over Rep. Rick Nolan in the 8th District Congressional election.

Rick Nolan won that election. But he didn’t win in House District 10B, and labor champion from the Aitkin area, Rep. Joe Radinovich, lost his seat. So the question remains: Why does the GOP, which opposes affordable universal health care and livable wages and would prefer privatization of Social Security and Medicare have any kind of grip at all on working class voters? And why did so many working people in Greater Minnesota – not just around Aitkin – vote against their own economic interests, or not vote at all?

It wasn’t for lack of communication with labor voters. By all accounts, the Minnesota Labor 2014 program generated more home visits, phone calls, mail and worksite conversations than ever before. And the DFL voter communication program was as strong as it’s ever been. But smaller memberships in rural districts mean that, however vigorous the labor effort, there may not be enough union voters to turn the tide. Same for the DFL.

But there’s more to the story. I don’t think enough people, whether in Greater Minnesota, the suburbs or the cities, belong to organizations where they think and act together on issues of common concern relating to their economic life.

Many people belong to congregations where they reflect, pray and act on matters of faith – more often than not, relating to sexuality and marriage. NRA chapters bring folks together around their Second Amendment rights, and Legion and VFW posts focus on veterans’ issues. But there are nowhere near as many citizen organizations addressing bread-and-butter economic issues. Our unions do that, drawing workers together to deliberate, decide and act to make life better at work and in their communities. But if you don’t belong to a labor (or farmers’) union, where do you reflect and act together with co-workers and neighbors to assure a just reward for work, workplace safety, good health care and education, a healthy environment, decent transportation and a secure retirement for all? And where do you get accurate information about these and other matters?

Many complain about negative TV, radio and newspaper ads and the deluge of viciously false mailers in some districts. But, if people aren’t receiving more accurate information somewhere else, on a regular basis – not just during campaign season – it’s easy to see how they could be swayed or, at least, confused or discouraged from voting.

On the radio the other day, Sister Simone Campbell, one of the Nuns on the Bus, described recent conversations she had with people who were confused and discouraged by negative political advertising, felt alienated from politicians and weren’t going to vote.

“It’s that alienation, separation, division that’s driving people apart,” she said. “We’ve gotta get into community so we’re connected to each other; so that there is an antidote from all of the money, all of the negativity, all of the ferocious stuff.”

Getting into community and connecting with each other: That’s called organizing. As union members and retirees, helping workers connect in unions is our focus. But, where that’s not timely or possible right now, we need to help form other kinds of democratic citizen organizations where working people can join together to learn and act to free themselves from the GOP grip.

– Bill Moore is president of the Minnesota State Retiree Council, AFL-CIO. This column originally appeared in the council’s newsletter, “The Gopher Retiree.”

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