The 2020 presidential election is one for the history books.
A tumultuous presidency, a two-year campaign with daily drama and real fear of instability around the states’ vote count. Everyone is on edge.
The discussion boards and social media posts are filled with theories and scenarios. Around 100 million people have voted early.
The president threatens the vote, attacks the processes and says he may not leave if he loses. If he loses and doesn’t leave, is that a coup d’etat?
Baptist former U.S. president Jimmy Carter is monitoring the U.S. vote, as he has for years in democracy-starved countries.
We don’t believe it will be over this time when the state totals start coming in on election night. All the talk is of voting, state legislative action and post-vote litigation.
We have watched other countries’ elections through our screens in real time from afar with pity, compassion and a little condescension.
We’ve seen post-vote chaos turn out into the streets. We’ve seen businesses shut down as workers refuse to come in until justice prevails.
In short, we’ve seen strikes around elections. Big strikes, involving whole cities and across countries. But we’ve never seen them here.
I’m a labor lawyer. For over 30 years, I’ve done union organizing and collective bargaining. And strikes.
I’ve worked strikes in coal mines, steel mills, groceries, slaughterhouses and among nurses and teachers. I was there when 100,000 grocery workers walked out in Southern California.
I spoke for hundreds of angry aluminum smelters in court in when the local police and judge tried to shut them down. I managed labor-community solidarity when pork packers shut down an iconic brand for over a year.
I stood in front of a federal judge for the airline pilots when the Teamsters struck UPS in 1997. I’ve prayed into a bullhorn while standing on a pickup tailgate when chicken-plant workers had had enough.
But I’ve never seen a general strike.
Strikes are rare in America. And more and more so. But still millions of working people here are represented by labor unions.
Over 80% of the airline industry is union, in line with lots of transportation and logistics. If and when these strike, they strike by location, confined to a plant or construction site. They strike by individual employers, not by industries.
And strikes are rare because losing your job due to “permanent replacement” is a real possibility. Strikes are costly and risky on both sides.
Workers go out because the deal is bad; they down tools because the company expects too much for too little.
They don’t go out because of elections or to oppose political repression. And they only shut down their own production: They don’t shut everything down.
Maybe they will this year.
I was startled to read that the national AFL-CIO, the council of labor unions, has apparently discussed a nationwide work stoppage if Trump loses and tries to steal the election.
That never happens in America. Not even to talk about it as a possibility. This is uncharted territory.
If working people do hit the bricks to stand up for America, it would happen very soon.
If it does, people of faith, please be there. In prayer. As chaplains to working people who find themselves suddenly outdoors. As prophets speaking truth to power.
Working in law, labor, faith and politics, he is a union-side lawyer and former AFL-CIO official who has served the United Food and Commercial Workers for years. National legal counsel for Jobs with Justice, he represents historically Black Simmons College of Kentucky in Louisville.