It is declared to be the policy of the United States to … encourag[e] the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protec[t] the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.
Preamble to the National Labor Relations Act, 1935
There is a slight chill in the air, a bit of wind, but nothing like the winter weather in other parts of the nation. I’ve driven approximately three hours from Pittsburgh to Columbus to join thousands of our brothers and sisters in a rally against state Senate Bill 5, Ohio’s version of the draconian Wisconsin legislation. Along the way, I made a brief stop to pick up Jacob, my nine-year old nephew. Jake has never been to a demonstration before, but he is as fired-up as every person out on the state house plaza.
We arrived about 30 minutes before the rally was scheduled to begin. A large crowd has already formed, the sound system is up, and people are singing and chanting, playing drums and waiting for the speakers to begin. Cars driving by have already started to honk in support of the workers on the plaza.
I have been walking around downtown Columbus with my UAW Local 2320 hat on. An older man walks up and introduces himself. His father was a UAW member for 20-some years. It is clear to us that the real goal of SB 5 is to break unions, not to balance a budget. We both lament that at best, the media hasn’t gotten the message, and at worst, they have but are ignoring it. We share a few stories about shared acquaintances and shake hands before I head further into the crowd.
The mass of people on the plaza has grown so I pick Jake up and put him on my shoulders. He keeps asking me to turn around so he can take in the whole scene. A sea of signs and people fill the plaza now. We start looking around and grab signs from AFSCME, “It’s About Freedom!” Jake keeps his raised high above his head, or at least as high as his nine-year old arms can reach.
The speakers have started now. There are union members and non-union workers, city councilmen, and teachers. Each person is speaking not just about a personal story, but about the shared story of the working-class in America, the working-class that is under an all out assault by the wealthy.
Chants continue amongst the crowd, everyone is ready for action. I find out that earlier in the week, the governor, John Kasich, in an act of cowardice, barred Ohioans from the state house. The governor fears another Wisconsin, and for good reason.
The bald-faced assault on the right to bargain has roused the labor movement, and united working men and women across America in a way that the Republicans could never have imagined. In 1935, Congress declared that the policy of the United States was to encourage collective-bargaining and organization by workers. Later, many states extended this policy to the public-sector workers that made government work. Now, some 76 years after the passage of that great legislation, and the fundamental right of workers to stand together and negotiate for a better life is being attacked.
As the rally winds down, Jacob and I go into the state house for an impromptu tour. We enter through the basement and are met, almost immediately, by the likeness of Abraham Lincoln. As Lincoln’s likeness, or was it his ghost, passed by I couldn’t help but think of the last line of the Gettysburg Address.
On November 19, 1863, after a Union victory at Gettysburg, Lincoln addressed a crowd and closed his speech by stating, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The people are in the streets and capitals across this nation now. We want our government back, we want our rights respected, and we want to let everyone who questions us to know that we stand as one, in solidarity.