What do the voices of working people sound like when an anti-worker president’s campaign for reelection fails? The election last week signaled to workers that the new administration will hear their voices and consider their needs and struggles. This year, the pandemic overwhelmed communities, especially historically marginalized ones. But significant action and organization taken during the past four years resulted in this outcome. The demand to protect workers rights has strengthened alongside the demand for democracy.
Although this election saw historic voter turnout, voter suppression is still an issue. People of color tend to have a harder time voting than white people. Democracy is in need of constant protection, and one way to gather support and political will is with demonstration. Last Saturday, over a thousand people marched from Minneapolis Police’s 3rd Precinct to Powderhorn Park on a day of action in solidarity with voters. Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), SEIU MN State Council, TakeAction Minnesota, and United Renters for Justice are a few of the groups that organized the march. Speakers focused on issues like housing and healthcare for all, fair wages, reimagining public safety, and rebuilding the community. They called for every vote to be counted and for a peaceful transition of power. Leaders urged demonstrators to move forward not just with their feet but with an everyday movement of collective action. Marchers and speakers were in celebratory moods, but they still showed an urgency to protect workers rights and democracy no matter who is in office.
CTUL, an organization that fights for low-wage workers, demanded that every voice be included in Twin Cities development. “Workers are the ones rebuilding the cities,” said Luis Alfredo Gamboa Marrero in a press release. “We need to make sure workers’ rights are being respected.”
CTUL member Henry Scott is hoping for fair wages, fair living, and an end to police brutality. Scott joined CTUL when they organized workers to end unfair treatment at his job. He’s been marching for around five years, and has seen the movement grow over time. “I’m looking for change,” he said. “Hopefully Biden will do some listening that Trump didn’t do. When you get this many people together for the same thing, it’s only a matter of time.”
Kelsie Anderson, vice president of OPEIU Local 12, said she marched on Saturday for many reasons that her union supports and stands by. “I felt like our voices were being heard,” said Anderson. “This is just a small stepping stone. We need an administration to elect a labor board that’s fair and just. We need an administration that will work with us and hear us.”
In a press release, Economic Policy Institute President Thea M. Lee said that the institute is looking forward to working with the incoming administration on addressing the needs of working people and reversing systemic racism. “EPI has long called for policies that would shift bargaining power back toward workers, curb accelerating income inequality, shore up the nation’s infrastructure and educational systems, protect and expand social insurance programs, and help close gender and racial wage gaps,” said Lee.
Jess Morales Rocketto, executive director of Care in Action, called the election results proof that women of color can win elections. “Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian women fearlessly organized our communities to make our voices heard and demonstrate that every vote is worth it,” said Rocketto in a press release. “We will not be silenced. We are ready to turn this moment into real change for the country and to achieve our vision for a caring economy.”
Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy said that union members are proud to have been part of a movement that helped elected Biden and Harris. “Despite the COVID-19 pandemic forcing multiple changes in tactics, the Labor 2020 campaign was the largest political effort in Minnesota AFL-CIO history,” said McCarthy in a statement. Union volunteers put immense organization into making phone calls to hundreds of thousands of people to elect Labor-endorsed candidates. Minnesota AFL-CIO’s Union Member Candidate Program launched two candidates this year, and both were elected to local office.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah, a community organizer with the Minnesota Branch of Socialist Alternative who is running for the Minneapolis City Council in 2021, spoke at a rally defending voters last Wednesday. “We’re all anxious right now…we’re told the only options for change is the GOP’s utter cruelty or the Dems’ insistence that substantial change cannot be won for working people,” she said. “It’s completely understandable why many of us might feel hopeless or scared right now.” She believes in the power of local movements and in the power of progressive and socialist policies to reach people on both sides of party lines.
Demonstrators called for an end to the narrative that society can somehow go back to normal after Trump’s presidency and the pandemic. There never was a normal for many people. A global health crisis revealed the value of workers as truly necessary for the basic functioning of society. There’s also been an unprecedented demand from the public to hold the institution of law enforcement accountable.
Workers have used this historic moment to pause and take a breath in their fight for protection and liberation.