California Teamsters campaign against the union-busting Proposition 32
WHEN CALIFORNIA residents head to the polls on Election Day, they will vote on a ballot measure aimed at silencing the political voice of organized labor. If passed, Proposition 32 would prohibit unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes.
Big business and wealthy Republican big shots have poured millions into the campaign to pass Proposition 32, but they've also been careful to dress up this nakedly anti-worker legislation with populist rhetoric in order to conceal the motivations of its chief backers.
Proposition 32 is known as the "Stop Special Interest Money Now Act," as if the aim of the law is some form of campaign finance reform--which is why Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzick has attacked the measure as "the fraud to end all frauds."
Needless to say, labor leaders have been sounding the alarm about the threat posed by Proposition 32. "Everything we've won by standing together, Prop 32 threatens to take away," wrote California Labor Federation leader Art Pulaski. "They've written Prop 32 to restrict unions while including every special exemption you can imagine for corporations, Wall Street, insurance companies, real estate developers and other corporate special interests."
California's organized labor movement has a proud tradition of taking political action. From the San Francisco general strike of 1934 to strikes by longshore workers against the Iraq war, against capital punishment and in support of the Occupy movement, workers are strengthened when their workplace struggles are backed up by political demands.
In the San Joaquin Valley, where Filipino and Mexican farmworkers first formed the United Farm Workers to strike table grape growers in 1965, the labor movement followed up with a national campaign of grape boycotts. And in 1946, a strike by downtown Oakland department store clerks, most of them women, sparked the last citywide general strike in the U.S.
State legislation enacted in the late 1970s conceded collective-bargaining rights to public-sector workers--a big reason why union density in California remains at 17 percent, higher than the national average.