Unions say key now is the fight to pass voting rights bills
Becky Pringle, president of the nation's largest union, the National Education Association, singled out Donald Trump by name as the instigator of the Jan. 6 insurrection. | Moses Mitchell/National Education Association

WASHINGTON —Union leaders marked the one-year anniversary of the Trumpite insurrection and invasion of the U.S. Capitol by using it to largely push for protecting and strengthening voting rights.

Only one union leader, National Education Association President Becky Pringle, openly named former GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump as the invasion’s instigator. She also warned the insurrection continues—in state legislatures and on the local level.

“Donald Trump and his allies fueled a violent insurrection intended to stop our democracy from functioning. Trump and his allies blatantly lied about the result of the election while attempting to overturn the will of the people in a desperate and dangerous attempt to hold onto power,” Pringle declared.

A rank-and-file worker, McDonald’s Fight for $15 activist Adriana Alvarez from Chicago, went farther. She linked the invaders who schemed to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election with political and corporate repressors of workers.

The statements came as politicians, unions, and civil rights groups, up to and including Democratic President Joe Biden, discussed the Jan. 6, 2021, Trumpite invasion and insurrection. Republicans were notably silent.

Last January 6, thousands of insurrectionists toting Confederate flags and sporting rightist, white supremacist, and Nazi regalia, invaded and trashed the Capitol. They hunted for lawmakers to hang or shoot, injured defending police officers—five of whom later died—and demanded Trump remain in office, despite his popular and electoral vote loss to Biden.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler spoke for many unions when she demanded lawmakers enact legislation to strengthen voting rights and vowed the labor movement would continue to defend democracy.  “We are not powerless, and the lesson of the Jan. 6 attack cannot be forgotten,” Shuler’s statement said. She also posted it as a video on the federation website.

“The very people who witnessed firsthand our democracy under assault now have the opportunity to strengthen our system of government, not weaken it. Congress must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act to protect the right of every American to cast their vote and have that vote counted so that every eligible voter has a say in who represents them.

“If we learned anything from that day a year ago, it is that democracy is fragile and must be protected,” Shuler declared. She said federation members stand ready to do so.

It also must be protected from the same interests, including the radical right, who repress workers, Alvarez said in her e-mail appeal. Her union-backed Fight For $15 And A Union movement speaks for low-wage no-benefit exploited workers, many of them women, workers of color, or both.

“I was scared but not surprised” by the attack on the Capitol, Alvarez wrote. “These right-wing extremists were fired up by the same Republicans who have been trying to make it harder for workers like me to vote and organize into a union for years.

“When we turn out in record numbers and vote for leaders who fight for us—like Black and Brown voters did in 2020—they get scared because they know we’re more powerful when we stand together. So they’re trying to take that away.

“They’re out to protect the corporations that exploit us with low wages, unsafe working conditions, and attacks on our rights every day. They continue to lie and inflame tensions that drive Americans apart, promote dangerous ideologies that show they have no business governing for us.

“Republican politicians and the corporations that fund their electoral campaigns know exactly what they’re doing” when pushing worker repression and especially voter repression laws, she said.

“We all deserve safe workplaces, union rights, the freedom to vote and to have a voice in the decisions that impact our lives. But things like voter ID laws, unfairly rigging electoral maps, and restrictions on mail-in voting all attack our fundamental freedom.

“WE have the numbers. We need to prevent lawmakers from rigging the elections against us to hoard power. But we can’t win any of our fights—for safe workplaces, for union rights, for fair wages—without a seat at the table.”

Alvarez wound up her letter asking workers and their allies to demand senators pass the two voting rights bills, and end the Senate filibuster rule to do so. She provided a toll-free number for people to call: 1-833-312-1833.

Other union leaders sounded many of the same themes Shuler did. AFSCME President Lee Saunders also warned of the continuing threat to democracy, but without naming Trump.

Other reactions included:

Communications Workers President Chris Shelton called last year’s invasion “a betrayal of our country, not just by the extremists who directly participated in the assault but also by the elected officials who spread lies about the election and encouraged the violence,” a reference to Trump, without naming him, and several others.

“We cannot let these bullies silence and intimidate us. The Senate majority must pass the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to create national standards that protect our rights, ensure that trusted local election officials count every vote, and prevent partisan politicians from sabotaging the results of our elections,” Shelton said.

The Office and Professional Employees also went farther, demanding the government hold not just the invaders accountable, but also “politicians who spurred them on, and who continue to spread hate and extremism.” Those pols, the union said, “continue to threaten our democracy by brazenly spreading lies about our elections and government to serve their own self-interests.”

OPEIU then called for halting partisan-pushed voting and elections sabotage and passage of the two pieces of legislation, Shuler and Alvarez mentioned, which would override and repeal the GOP-instigated repression.

“We demand our senators exercise their majority and pass the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to create national standards that protect every Americans’ right to vote, ensure every vote is counted, and prevent partisan politicians from sabotaging the results.”

The Teachers (AFT) tweeted to members and readers to e-mail senators, via an online petition, to pass the two bills. Union President Randi Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher, later provided a link on AFT’s website for people to write local editors.

“A former president, enabled by a growing cadre of extremists, continues to this day to cast doubt on the 2020 election. And in their quest for power, that same political faction wants to pass laws that stop people from voting. I can’t think of anything more grotesquely undemocratic and un-American than that. That’s why we must pass legislation to stop them from disenfranchising millions of people before the next election,” Weingarten wrote.

After saying democracy and institutions survived, NEA President Pringle, head of the nation’s largest union warned: “Sadly, the attacks on our democracy haven’t stopped. Over the last year, we have seen disinformation used to attack our freedom to vote as 19 states passed legislation making it harder for Americans to vote,” the Philadelphia science teacher added.

Teachers teach all students, “no matter their race or ZIP code,” is both a citizen’s responsibility and “a sacred right  we must protect for all.” Those lessons are taught in public schools, Pringle noted. “The restrictive voting rights bills in states across the nation” also often target students, she said. Data shows more than 50% of public school students are of color.

“Congress must pass legislation ensuring every eligible voter can make their voice heard by ensuring they can cast their ballots safely and freely, while also preventing partisan politicians from sabotaging the results of our elections. Our students are depending on us. Congress must act. Now.”

“This attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power was not an isolated incident,” AFSCME’s President Saunders warned. “It was part of a larger movement to undermine our governing institutions, to spread dangerous misinformation, to restrict access to the ballot box and disenfranchise millions of Americans.” He, too, did not single out Trump.

“One year later, we must remain vigilant about defending the pillars of our system. And that means giving more citizens a voice in the political process so that the government reflects the truest, fullest will of the people.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.