Just work harder for Democrats?

Is an enemy of labor's enemy in Illinois really a friend, asks Criage Lynnette Althage?

RECENTLY, I and many members of my AFSCME union local at Northeastern Illinois University went down to Springfield, Illinois, for what was billed as strategy meetings for surviving Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's attack on public-service and state employees.

Highly emphasized during the first session were the goals of "messaging" to our members. It was explained to those of us in the room that, as we know, we haven't always gotten good results from the Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in fighting for our union's issues in the legislature in the past. Now, Madigan may be using the union and unions in general as an opportune means of keeping power by fighting Rauner's drastic cuts to the state.

So we were told to not mention any of Madigan's past indiscretions in working against the union when we talk to union members about fighting Rauner. We were told by the organizer that if we did mention the governor's past wrongs against AFSCME when talking to our members, we would essentially be letting Rauner win in messaging.

The second session was for our particular section of work--in my case, state university employees. This was a very small group, because a significant amount of university locals could not travel to the conference due to dangerous freezing rain on the roads.

We were told again that we needed to clarify our messaging to our members about Rauner, his handpicked Illinois Labor Relations Board and Republican legislators being the sole bad guys--that we cannot afford to muddle the issues, so that we can motivate more people to get out to vote against Rauner in his coming election.

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We were also scolded about the low participation of union board members who went door-knocking for union-friendly Democratic politicians during this last election. We were told that, somehow, more door-knockers would have forced people to the polls to vote in their "best interests." Many in our room mentioned the lackluster choices in the candidates that we had, and that it would have seemed like we were browbeating people needlessly, given the lack of good choices.

The response from those running the session? That we cannot afford the idea of "good choices" in this fight, and in the case of Madigan, "the enemy of our enemy is our friend."

This was restated to us many times during the back-and-forth discussion. The discussion leaders also told us that this is what grassroots organizing is like--supporting union-friendly Democrats and Republicans.

It was a sad disconnect between the organizers and the members who came looking to add some meaningful ideas about strategizing against the Rauner agenda. We were essentially admonished about how we need to work harder, with more effort, on what has been proven to be losing strategy--instead of looking at ideas from our members about what could work more effectively beyond the electoral arena.

I came away with the feeling that the organizers who were giving us these unmotivating directives were not convinced of the message that they were drilling into us, and I wondered what they really thought.