1998 Elections Show The Union Vote Is Strong

Charles W. Jones, International President Emeritus

Union voters help turn a projected 25-seat loss in Congress into a five-seat gain for working family-backed candidates

EVERY BOILERMAKER MEMBER who went to the polls on November 3 and voted for candidates who support our legislative agenda deserves a big pat on the back. If you took your family or others along and they voted for pro-worker candidates, you deserve two pats for every person you got to the polls. And if you were one of the many Boilermaker members who got personally involved in the election process and volunteered your free time after work and on weekends to help a pro-worker candidate get elected, you deserve far more than I can put into words.

Our efforts are paying off. The vote from union households was one of the most important factors in this election. Nearly one-fourth of voters came from union households, and they voted solidly for pro-worker candidates. Media analysts have, for the most part, overlooked the significance of our contribution, but the numbers speak for themselves.

Our educational programs are working. Union members are more knowledgeable regarding the issues and the candidates than nonunion workers. We vote in higher percentages than nonunion workers from similar backgrounds. We vote for candidates who will protect our jobs, our wages, our benefits, our safety, and our right to organize in order to collectively bargain with our employers.

And we get involved in the electoral process. In many areas of the country, our members - and sometimes entire lodges - have been commended for their tireless efforts in supporting the campaigns of pro-worker candidates. Our efforts helped turn a projected 25- to 40-seat loss in the U.S. House of Representatives into a five-seat gain for working family-backed candidates. We elected a pro-worker governor in California, the most populous state, and we replaced anti-worker Senators Lauch Faircloth (R-NC) and Al D'Amato (R-NY). These losses contributed significantly to the decision by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) to resign.

Yes, you can all pat yourselves on the back and be proud of what you've accomplished.

But politics is an arena in which the fight never ends. Bob Livingston (R-LA) will be the new House Speaker. He may not be as arrogant and irritating as Newt Gingrich, but he is every bit as much of a threat to working families.

On his web site, Livingston brags that he "prohibited OSHA from issuing new standards on Ergonomics." That action alone may cost thousands of workers their livelihoods when they develop repetitive stress disorders from the work they do. He also sponsored a national right-to-work bill and co-sponsored bills to silence the political voice of unions, to discourage union organizing, and to partially privatize Social Security while raising the retirement age.

The media are saying that Bob Livingston is evidence the GOP is hoping to make its image more moderate, but Livingston is no moderate. He is right-wing and anti-worker. He gets 95 percent of his campaign money from corporations. He is not going to do us any favors willingly.

As soon as the 106th Congress goes into session, we must be ready to go into battle all over again. We must continue to fight to preserve Social Security and Medicare. We need to make sure that Congress uses any budget surpluses to save those programs, not to give tax breaks to their wealthy contributors and friends.

The good part is knowing that, with the right effort, we can win.