By GRAHAM TRAINOR, Oregon AFL-CIO president
As final votes are being counted in the 2022 midterms, there is plenty of commentary about what happened. For months leading up to November 8, political pundits were beating a drum about an imminent “Red Wave.” Polls continued to fuel a dim picture for the “party in power,” and talk of a major setback for the most pro-union president in American history became the norm. This was all taking place with a backdrop of attacks on our democracy and with election deniers running for office across the country, including several running to be their state’s chief elections official.
Here in Oregon, we were worried. A bizarre three-way governor’s race saw historic spending by the state’s biggest billionaire, Phil Knight. Deep turnover in the Oregon Legislature put numerous first-time candidates in critical must-win districts. And three Congressional Districts were competitive, including Oregon’s newly added Congressional District 6.
For the better part of this year, the Oregon labor movement planned and implemented a robust, targeted grassroots campaign that relied on the most powerful tactic: conversations between union members about the issues that matter. We know that the best way to break through the noise is to reach workers where they are at.
The national AFL-CIO took the same approach in battleground states and districts facing the most hotly contested races. In every state and in every major region, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler focused on deepening the labor movement’s investment in year-round organizing and bringing voter discussions back to basic economics.
We in the labor movement often say during election campaigns that there is a key factor that polls simply can’t predict: a people-powered field program meeting likely voters where they are at.
It’s hard to think of an election cycle where this factor was more clearly on display. Whether it was the labor movement’s operation in the Pennsylvania Senate race, or the unprecedented field program by the Culinary Union and the Nevada AFL-CIO that clinched a pro-worker U.S. Senate majority, or Oregon Labor’s role electing Tina Kotek as our next governor. The American labor movement was the difference-maker in countless races and our nation, and democracy will be better off for it.
The effort to curb the “Red Wave” had a union bug all over it. And for those that aim to divide us, second-guess us, or minimize the power and potential of collective action, this was a reminder to never bet against working people.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is a federation of labor unions.
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