Midterms Labor Candidates are Shaking Up the Status Quo and Standing Up for Workers

Labor has always held electoral power, especially when wielded by women. Former Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins’s lifelong dedication to workers’ rights was sparked by witnessing the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, in which 146 people — predominantly young Jewish immigrant women — died, most as a result of locked factory doors. Though they shunned the ballot box, legendary political radicals like Lucy Parsons, Emma Goldman, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn were all labor organizers. In 1872, Victoria Woodhull — the first woman to run for president (with abolitionist Frederick Douglass as her running mate) — supported workers’ rights and trade unionism. Much more recently, a 28-year-old, union-friendly avowed socialist and organizer from the Bronx, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, beat an establishment Democratic incumbent in the New York state representative primary race.

Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s transformative presidency, America’s labor movement has been intertwined with electoral politics, and its influence has seen major workers’ rights reforms, such as the establishment of the eight-hour workday, the end of child labor, and the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, which strengthened workers’ right to organize. The labor movement is also responsible for establishing a federal minimum wage and laws that ban wage discrimination based on gender and race at work, as well as those that regulate safety standards to protect workers on the job.

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