Bobby Kasper: New year offers promise, but only if we stay engaged

St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper fired up volunteers during a Labor 2018 door knock in October.

Results of the 2018 midterm election provided plenty of cause for celebration – unless, that is, you’re a CEO or Wall Street banker.

Loud and clear, voters across the country delivered a message that we are tired of corporate control over our government. We are fed up with politicians who hand tax cuts to their wealthy donors while attacking our health care. And we are ready for an agenda that puts working people first.

It’s the message we heard in Dakota, Washington and other counties in the 2nd Congressional District, where labor-endorsed Angie Craig unseated extreme GOP Rep. Jason Lewis. It’s the message we heard statewide, as Minnesota voters overwhelmingly backed Tina Smith and Tim Walz – rejecting divisive, anti-immigrant messages offered up by their opponents – and flipped the state House of Representatives into labor-friendly control.

And it’s the message we heard from our neighbors to the east, as Wisconsin voters finally kicked their union busting governor, Scott Walker, to the curb.

We saw a tidal wave of support last year for pro-worker candidates, many of them union members, women and people of color. But it didn’t happen by accident.

We know the political pendulum doesn’t swing our way unless working people get out there and push it. That’s why at the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, we led an ambitious Labor 2018 campaign to win the political ground game one door at a time in Ramsey, Dakota, Washington and Chisago counties.

The results were historic. Our labor volunteers knocked on more doors and had more conversations than any other labor federation in the state – and nearly three times as many doors as we knocked two years ago, in a presidential cycle! By working together, with support from our affiliate unions, our volunteers helped ensure the labor movement made its presence felt on Election Day. As federation president and a proud LIUNA member, I am grateful to everyone who contributed his or her time to participate in a door knock, phone bank or any other Labor 2018 event.

But the work of building political power for working people did not end Nov. 6. We helped a lot of friends win new House seats in Washington and in St. Paul. Now it’s on us to make sure they remember who their friends are.

For politicians-turned-elected officials, it’s easier to forget than you might think.

Consider the orientation event for freshmen members of Congress hosted on Harvard’s campus last month. A tradition that dates back to the 1970s, it’s billed as an opportunity for newly elected lawmakers to build bipartisanship and ease into their work on Capitol Hill. But here’s the catch: Harvard’s panels and seminars were stacked with CEOs of corporations like General Motors, Boeing and Johnson & Johnson. And the former lawmakers on hand to provide advice? Most now work as lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street and other industry groups.

Several freshman Democrats took offense – and took to social media to pull back the curtain on their so-called orientation. “Lobbyists are here. Goldman Sachs is here,” Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York tweeted. “Where’s labor? Activists? Frontline community leaders?”

As a labor movement, we’re never going to outspend corporate America and the wealthy elites. They will always have more highly paid lobbyists, bigger political action funds and more campaign ads on TV. But here’s what they can’t buy: an engaged, active and powerful movement of people committed to building an economy that works for everyone.

CEOs can whisper into politicians’ ears all they want. It won’t matter if we build and maintain relationships with our allies in the Legislature and in Congress by calling and emailing about issues that matter. The AFL-CIO makes it easy to make our voices heard by signing up for legislative alerts by text message. Or visit our website, http://www.stpaulunions.org, to sign up to get e-activists alerts in your inbox.

Again, I want to thank all the union affiliates that helped us during Labor 2018. Here’s wishing all union members a happy and prosperous new year!

– Bobby Kasper is president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, representing over 100 affiliate unions with members in Ramsey, Washington, Dakota and Chisago counties.

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