Amid widespread concerns that President Donald Trump will attempt to steal today’s election or refuse to leave office if he loses, the leaders of multiple Chicago-area unions issued a joint statement on Monday committing to take any nonviolent action necessary — up to and including a general strike — to defend democracy.
“Every single vote has to be counted,” says Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). “We are prepared to be in solidarity to ensure that our democracy is protected in this moment.”
The CTU, United Electrical Workers (UE), SEIU Local 73, SEIU Healthcare, Cook County College Teachers Union, American Federation of Government Employees Local 704 and Warehouse Workers Organizing Committee are calling on “all unions, community, faith and civic organizations, and public leaders to unite in vigilance and readiness to defend our rights as the votes in the November 3rd election are cast and counted.”
The Chicago unions are part of Labor Action to Defend Democracy (LADD) — a recently formed national network of union members organizing the labor movement’s response to the threat of a stolen election.
Alex Han, a Chicago-based labor organizer helping coordinate LADD, says the network seeks to tap into the unique power of unions and workers to not only protest in the streets, but to cause serious economic disruption, if necessary.
“One lesson we learned from the summer is you can sustain street heat to some degree, but it’s going to dissolve. We saw this during Occupy, we’ve seen this many times,” Han tells In These Times. “There’s a perspective that would say the missing ingredient is a direct linkage with workplace action, which is the kind of action that could be more sustaining and sharper, and not let street action devolve into a running battle with police.”
LADD has put together various resources—including sample resolutions and a model letter to politicians — that unions can use to amplify calls to protect the electoral process. In the past three weeks, over twenty central labor councils, state labor federations, national and local unions have issued resolutions expressing firm opposition to any efforts to subvert, distort or disregard the final results of the presidential election.
The Rochester Labor Council is specifically calling on the national AFL-CIO to prepare for a general strike, while the Vermont AFL-CIO plans to hold a general strike vote on November 21 should Trump lose and refuse to concede. The Seattle Education Association will also convene an emergency meeting of its board of directors within a week of the election to consider next steps for possible action.
Meanwhile, the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC)—a joint project of the Democratic Socialists of America and UE formed earlier this year in response to the pandemic — hosted a livestream discussion last week on how workers can take mass action to ensure a peaceful transition of power. Featuring Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson and EWOC organizers Dawn Tefft and Zack Pattin, the livestream has nearly 6,000 views.
“The labor movement knows how important it is to defend democracy in this country. We are democratic institutions,” UE President Carl Rosen explains. “We’re prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure democracy is sustained. We know what it’s taken in other countries that have faced tinpot dictators trying to stay in office after the people of their country have voted them out.”
As Rosen indicates, unions around the world are often the first line of defense against would-be dictatorships. For example, in the year since Bolivia’s democratically elected president Evo Morales was ousted in a U.S.-backed military coup, the Central Obrera Boliviana — the nation’s largest labor federation—led the fight to restore democracy, culminating in the recent electoral victory of Morales’s party, the Movimiento al Socialismo.
“The labor movement has a proud history of standing up for democracy and fair elections around the world,” says SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer. “Citizens across the country are voting like never before. We are utilizing the rights afforded to us to vote early, in person, and by mail. And those votes should be counted.”
“We believe in the power of the people — the multi-racial, working-class majority,” the Chicago unions’ statement reads. “Donald Trump wants to steal this election. We won’t let him.”
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Jeff Schuhrke is a labor historian, educator, journalist and union activist who teaches at the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies, SUNY Empire State University in New York City. He has been an In These Times contributor since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSchuhrke.