Column: Women make unions strong

Dennis Williams

I read a powerful letter from UAW Local 400 (Region 1D) retiree Margaret Catanzaro, a 75-year UAW member who started working in 1942 at the Ford plant in Highland Park. Catanzaro gives her perspective on anti-union rhetoric and why it’s important to get involved in your community and why elections matter. In short, Catanzaro reminds us that strong women make strong unions and a strong nation.

There is no better time to recognize the contributions women have made to the labor movement than during Women’s History Month. From the sit-down strikes of 1936-37, through the war years when Catanzaro started working, to today’s campaigns for equal pay and safe workplaces, women’s role in the UAW cannot be overlooked. Likewise, the power of women who unite to change society shouldn’t be overlooked either and since the 2016 election, they’ve been doing just that: They want change and they are acting. If strong women make strong unions then both of those together make our country better.

Voting will be the ultimate litmus test for women this fall. The stakes in 2018 are high.

Whoever wins races for state offices in most states will get to redraw the lines during the 2021 redistricting process. Last time around, the GOP won the midterm statehouses and legislatures and they got to redraw the districts in most states in their favor.

The redrawing of districts every 10 years was intended to ensure that our legislators are representative of voters after the annual census. But all too often, the process is rigged by the party in power — a process known as gerrymandering.

How bad has gerrymandering become? Consider this fact: Ballotpedia expects 23 of the 435 U.S. House seats in 2018 to be competitive races. That’s 5.3 percent. Another 15 seats could become competitive. That means about 87 percent of the congressional races are pretty much decided by the districts drawn. Gerrymandering affects which laws get passed, which communities get properly represented, and who benefits from government funding.

It causes polarization of the voters, legislative gridlock, and more partisan policy positions as the real race for both parties is a party primary. It also creates voter apathy and disenfranchisement. After all, 87 percent of the nation’s Congressional races are most likely decided by the lines drawn for both party’s incumbent officeholders.

Retirees like Catanzaro worked hard and fought for fair labor laws, fair wages, equality in the workplace and the right to bargain collectively. For those of “the greatest generation,” they built our post-war nation and wrote the rules we take for granted at our workplace. All these rights have been under assault under the political maps drawn in the last 10 years.

That’s why voting in November is so important. The state officeholders and state legislators you elect will get to decide who represents you for the next decade — or until 2031. A vote this fall will determine whether the things we all have earned through Catanzaro’s sacrifice in the workplace will be around for our grandchildren. After all, all we have to do is vote. Margaret’s generation did the heavy lifting.

Dennis Williams is president of the UAW.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.