Illinois ballot measure weakens the labor movement

By Naomi Craine
November 14, 2022

CHICAGO — The Nov. 8 ballot in Illinois includes Amendment 1, a referendum to change the state constitution that many union and Democratic Party officials promote as a “Workers Bill of Rights.” In fact, it does nothing to advance workers’ self-confidence and organization, to promote solidarity and thereby strengthen our unions. The Socialist Workers Party recommends workers not vote on this proposition.

The measure was placed on the ballot by the Democratic majorities in the state legislature. It would add to the state constitution, “Employees shall have the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work.”

It would also prohibit passing so-called right-to-work legislation. Some neighboring states have these laws, which prohibit unions from winning a “closed shop” where union membership is mandatory.

“I voted for it, because workers need to have rights,” Delores Ramos, who works in the office of a paper plant and had already sent a mail-in ballot, told Socialist Workers Party campaigners who knocked on her door Oct. 24.

“My party is taking a position of not voting for or against,” I said. “The biggest problem with the amendment is it reinforces the illusion that we can look to the state to guarantee our rights, it demobilizes us. But it’s a government that represents the capitalist rulers, whichever of their parties, the Democrats or Republicans, is in office. The working class makes real gains when we organize and rely on our own strength, like the battles that built unions in the 1930s, that brought down Jim Crow segregation.”

“Well, that’s true,” Ramos said. “I don’t think it will actually do anything.”

“What’s needed is to use union power to fight for wages and working conditions in face of the bosses’ attacks,” I said, “to build solidarity with strikes and other struggles. And we need to organize politically as a class. To rely on ourselves, not their state. We’re for building a labor party, based on the unions, that breaks with the bosses’ parties.”

Signs and speeches promoting Amendment 1 have been prominent at Labor Day parades and other labor actions in recent months, along with calls to elect Democrats in November. Supporters of the measure are running TV ads claiming the law will lead to improved wages and safety for health care workers, firefighters and others.

Most opponents of Amendment 1 put forward typical anti-union arguments claiming public workers’ unions are already too strong and cause higher taxes.

The campaign for Amendment 1 is part of the overall course advanced by the labor officialdom of relying on the capitalist state and “friends of labor” in the Democratic Party — a course that has weakened unions over decades. They are requesting the capitalist government solve workers’ problems, rather than the unions fighting for jobs, safe working conditions, cost-of-living raises to keep up with inflation and more.

It’s similar to the campaign by the AFL-CIO on a national level for Congress to pass the “Protecting Workers Right to Organize Act.” Its provisions include increasing fines the National Labor Relations Board can levy on bosses’ who illegally fire workers and prohibiting bosses from forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings at work.

But workers can’t look to the NLRB to protect our interests either. In August, for example, one of its regional boards ordered the United Mine Workers to pay Warrior Met Coal $13.3 million for losses the bosses suffered from the miners going on strike!

Naomi Craine is a rail conductor and the Socialist Workers Party candidate for governor of Illinois.