Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Referendum in Ohio: A landslide defeat for the Republican war on unions

Yesterday I offered my opinion that if Ohio voters repealed the aggressive anti-union measures enacted by the Republican governor and legislature back in February, this would represent a welcome victory not only for the union movement but for democracy. On the other hand, a victory by the anti-union forces would be a bad outcome for Ohio and one more bad sign about the overall direction of American politics.

It turns out that, in Ohio at least, the Republican war on unions was dealt a major setback. From the New York Times:
A year after Republicans swept legislatures across the country, voters in Ohio delivered their verdict Tuesday on a centerpiece of the conservative legislative agenda, striking down a law that restricted public workers’ rights to bargain collectively.

The landslide vote to repeal the bill — 62 percent to 38 percent, according to preliminary results from Ohio’s secretary of state — was a slap to Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican who had championed the law as a tool for cities to cut costs. The bill passed in March on a wave of enthusiasm among Republicans fresh from victories. A similar bill also passed in Wisconsin. [....]

At a news conference Tuesday night, Mr. Kasich congratulated the winners and said he would assess the situation before proposing any new legislation. “It’s time to pause,” he said. “The people have spoken clearly.”

When asked about the people’s message, Mr. Kasich said, “They might have said it was too much too soon.”
We should be cautious about drawing overly sweeping general conclusions from this one outcome. In Ohio the Republicans overreached in a fairly extreme manner, as even Kasich now seems to recognize—for example, by attacking police and firefighters as well as the usual scapegoats like teachers and nurses, an error that cost them support among normally Republican voters. And they failed to drive a wedge between public-sector and private-sector workers, but instead seem to have frightened private-sector workers into solidarity with unionized public-sector workers. As Kyle Leighton reported in TPM yesterday, when a lopsided defeat for the Republicans was already looking probable:
[I]f Ohio Republicans were hoping for a death blow to the power of unions in a state with a strong labor history, they may have had the opposite effect. In interviews with TPM, Ohio Democratic party and union staffers said that the whole fight has essentially ignited party activism in the most important of swing states.
Also, the national labor movement went all-out to support this referendum campaign in Ohio, and it's not clear whether it could reproduce the intensity of this effort on a national scale. (It appears that in this Ohio referendum fight, the pro-union side even outspent the anti-union side—a pattern that obviously could never be reproduced on a national scale, since the funds available to business interests dwarf those available to unions.)

Nevertheless, this is a welcome and dramatic victory for the good guys. And, despite all the necessary caveats, it may well be a signal of larger trouble for the agenda of the Republican hard right. Let's hope so.

=> Incidentally, a referendum in Maine yesterday produced a small local defeat for another nation-wide right-wing campaign, the long-term Republican war on voting. To quote today's New York Times again:
Across the country, several other Republican-backed measures were also dealt setbacks, including a crackdown on voting rights in Maine.
For more details on the Maine referendum, see here.

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub

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