On a recent visit to South Carolina, I was reminded that last November President Obama received 40 percent of the state’s vote. There are a number of things that make this fact interesting but one really struck me: No significant funds were spent in South Carolina by anyone to turn out the vote in favor of Obama. The other interesting point is that that 40 percent is repeatedly ignored after Election Day.
The U.S. electoral system is blatantly undemocratic. Think about it for a moment. When it comes to electing the president of the United States it is not one person-one vote. Instead, there is this bizarre institution called the Electoral College. As a result no matter how many votes are cast in Texas or California, for instance, those states receive a set number of electoral votes to cast. These are added up and whoever comes out on top in a particular state gets that state’s entire Electoral College allotment. Republicans, by the way, are trying to change that so that states can parcel out their Electoral College votes, not proportionately but according to the manner in which the Republicans have gerrymandered states that they dominate.
What the Electoral College system means, however, is that there are certain states that are considered solidly Democratic or solidly Republican because a majority consistently (or relatively consistently) votes in the direction of one or the other party. South Carolina, in this case, is considered solidly Republican. Because of our voting system that means that those voters who consistently reject the Republican candidates are treated as if they never existed.
Forty percent is an interesting figure. Forty percent of the vote with no outside assistance is an even more interesting figure. That means that conceivably South Carolina, and several other states that are considered solidly Republican, may actually end up in play in upcoming elections but only if a new strategy is implemented. The key elements of such a strategy were summarized in the 1988 presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson when he suggested that voters in the South needed to have a voting card in one hand and in the other hand they needed a union card.
Moving states into play will necessitate greater resources at election time, for sure, but the longer term commitment must be to the organizing of workers in the South. What the Republicans are very well aware—which is why they are desperately pushing so-called “right to work” laws—is that the stronger workers are through their unions, they more likely it is that Republicans will lose elections. Why? Because labor unions will be challenging candidates on questions of economic justice and in light of the Republicans consolidating as both the ‘non-Black’ party as well as the party in favor of economic inequality, labor unions are a direct threat.
If we want to flip the script in future elections in states such as South Carolina not only do serious resources need to be put in at election time, but labor unions need to be built and rebuilt as bases for progress. They are one of the few organizations that brings workers together across racial, ethnic and gender lines. This is also what makes them so dangerous for corporate America and their political allies in the Republican Party.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com