The labor movement gained a very significant win last Tuesday when Ohioans voted to repeal a law that largely restricted collective bargaining rights for public workers. Many argue that the referendum serves as a warning for Republican leaders in Ohio who currently control the state’s government. However, it remains unclear whether the victory in Ohio points to a resurrection in the labor movement or if it’s simply another unintended byproduct of the current political “tug of war” between Republicans and Democrats.
The movement certainly flexed its muscle while attacking the law in Ohio by investing millions of dollars in information campaigns and organization efforts. However, what remains to be seen is whether the movement has picked up enough momentum to combat future attacks. A Tea Party coalition in Ohio has already announced that it will push for “Right to Work” measures. This only adds to the attacks already happening in Wisconsin, New Jersey and other states.
As the country has swung back and forth between Democrats and Republicans, the labor movement has been an influential force behind the Democrats. Still, some argue that the movement has failed to gain independent victories outside of its role as a democratic supporter. Union membership remains very low. Additionally, the movement has been unable to hold the elected candidates it supported accountable. In other words, labor has failed to cash in its support for Democrats as the candidates it has supported ignore the movement once they hold office. At this point, the labor is playing defense in an almost constant onslaught of assaults all over the country and with desperation, it has gained tremendous momentum. However, to be effective in protecting workers’ rights, it must learn to play outside of the political pendulum. Instead of defining victory as the election of a labor-friendly democratic candidate, it must define it as concrete changes in the laws of the country. The victory in Ohio is significant because it was not about helping Democrats win an election but about concrete results in labor legislation.