The President's Column: Politics is a Fight for Power

April 10, 2024

George Gresham Headshot HD 6654.jpegEveryone knows that money talks, but in politics money shouts. In large part because of the cost of media commercials, even local congressional campaigns often need to raise millions of dollars, statewide campaigns for governor or US senator tens of millions, and presidential campaigns hundreds of millions and even a billion-plus.

It is absurd and it needn’t be that way. In most countries—Canada and France are two examples— campaigns are limited to 4-6 weeks and candidates are allotted the same amount of television time. For free! Here in the United States, of course, campaigning for the next election begins the day after the last one, and expensive commercials amount to coverage.

Because of the power of corporations—this is a capitalist society, after all—the wealthy have few limits on how much money to contribute to their favored candidates (and their front groups); working people are disadvantaged, as always. What we do have, however, is our numbers. Making sure we maximize the potential power of our numbers depends on every one of us pitching in.

Federal law prevents unions from using dues money for political purposes. So, many years ago, our union formed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Political Action Fund. This allows members to make voluntary contributions to help us lobby and campaign for worker-friendly legislation and candidates. We know that what we win at the bargaining table can be limited or even taken away in the halls of Congress, our statehouses and city halls.

We cannot afford to make politics a spectator sport. It must be audience participation. We’ve got no cause for complaint if the powers-that-be mess with us, if we are not ready and willing to fight for ourselves. And that’s what poli- tics is about: a fight for power. The readiness of our members to mobi- lize—in the first place, by contrib- uting to our Political Action Fund, putting our money where our mouths are, so to speak—shows how willing we are to fight.

Our first task is to mobilize our members in our states where we live—to register all who are eligible to vote and to Get Out the Vote (GOTV). But in addition to our state and local races, this is a presidential election year. And presidential elections are decided by electoral college votes, not the popular vote. For example, in the last 32 years the Republican pres- idential candidate has received more total votes (the popularvote) than the Democrat onlyone time. Yet they’ve been in the White House 12 of those years and managed to name six of the nine Supreme Court justices.

The Electoral College works similarly to the US Senate. California, with nearly 40 million people, has two senators. So does Wyoming, with less than a million people. So, in 2016, Hillary Clinton received three million more votes than Donald Trump, but the Electoral College vote was 304-227 for Trump. That’s why presidential elections are usually decided in 6-8 “battleground” states where the electorate is fairly evenly divided. Everyone knows New York and Massachusetts will vote Democratic and that Utah and South Carolina will vote Republican. So, the focus is on places like Michigan and Georgia which can go either way. This year even parts of New York have become battle- grounds with crucial contests in the Hudson Valley and Long Island that have the potential to flip the House back to blue.

The electoral landscape is the reason behind our union sending thousands of member volunteers to campaign in battleground states. And why, to be effective, we need to build our Martin Luther King, Jr Political Action Fund to help underwrite these campaigns.

This year will be perhaps the most difficult—and dangerous—campaigns we’ve ever faced. Trump has surrounded himself with a “MAGA” coalition that includes white supremacists, antisemites, misogynists, and outright fascists, making the former president a clear and present danger to work- ers and their unions, to women and reproductive rights, to the for- eign-born, to peoples of color, and to all of our democratic rights.

But national polling tells us this is going to be a nail-bitingly close election. Despite President Biden’s achievements—leading the country out of the Corona- virus pandemic, restoring the economy through his trillion-dollar infrastructure legislation, promoting workers’ rights and the trade-union movement like no other president—we have a fight on our hands. Young voters, Black and other voters of color and every other part of the coalition that elected Biden in 2020 have to again be engaged, mobilized and brought to the polls on election day.

That’s where we 1199ers come in. Our track record of successful cam- paigning has few equals. But those successes—whether it is marches on our state capitals for Medicaid dollars or electing our public officials, including the President—are underwritten by our Political Action Fund.

I’m confident we can count on you to help our Fund grow and flourish.