Louisiana workers fight back against repressive anti-union legislation

The Republican-controlled Louisiana State Legislature, under the leadership of far-right, white supremacist Gov. Jeff Landry, is ramping up its attack on workers. Several new pieces of anti-union legislation have advanced in the Senate, constituting an all-out war on Louisiana workers. Several unions and community organizations, including the Louisiana branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, quickly mobilized in response and took to the streets of New Orleans on April 6 to demand an end to the state’s attack on workers’ rights. 

Taken together, the bills introduced amount to a virtual ban on public sector unions. House Bill 572 would prohibit collective bargaining with most public sector unions. Notably, this repressive measure would not impact law enforcement agencies. This is an indication of the power of police unions and their apparent untouchability within the political establishment. Police unions are notorious for protecting killer cops and granting special privileges not afforded to other labor unions. Another bill, House Bill 571, would prohibit government agencies from spending public funds on contract negotiations, and Senate Bill 331 would limit the ways that public sector unions can collect membership dues.

This latest attack on workers comes just weeks after the swift passage of several new racist “tough on crime” bills passed in the Legislature’s Special Session on Crime last month, bound to exacerbate the crisis of over-policing and mass incarceration of Black communities. Now, the legislature is cracking down on even broader swaths of the working class. Among those whose bargaining rights are at stake are the state’s 50,000 public school teachers, whose unions have already been severely undermined by the corporate charter school system built on the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina. 

New Orleans city workers, who won an ordinance in the City Council last year that codified their right to organize, fear that their hard-won efforts could soon be reversed. “The legislators are really throwing everything at us all at once to make it harder to fight back against,” said Maria Singer of the New Orleans City Workers Organizing Committee. “Years of work by my colleagues would be destroyed with the passage of many of these bills.” 

Grace Reinke, a public sector worker and organizer with United Campus Workers, sees the curtailing of worker’s rights as a targeted measure aiming at repressing worker people, especially in New Orleans. “Conservative elites see growing power in cities like ours and consider it a threat to their interests,” Reinke said. “Anything they can do to make organizing workers harder fits squarely in line with the broader agenda of pushing free-market ideals and maximizing profits at the expense of workers.” 

Workers in Louisiana — and all across the Deep South — are among the most exploited in the country. The state consistently ranks among the worst for wages, healthcare access, education, incarceration, and climate impacts. The corporate elite sees the South and its working class as a dumping ground for unwanted externalities. Poor people develop cancer and die when fossil fuel magnates flood their neighborhoods with toxic chemicals; Black working class communities are displaced by wealthy developers seeking new investment opportunities; tens of thousands of migrants are detained in privately-owned immigrant detention centers; the legacy of slavery continues through the violent and racist apparatus of mass incarceration. It would be foolish to divorce the issue of workplace benefits from the myriad of other issues that working class people face.

Workers fight back against anti-union bills in Louisiana. Liberation collage: United Teachers of New Orleans IG; Louisiana state capitol building in Baton Rouge. by Jim Bowen, CC BY 2.0 DEED.

The ruling class establishment has proven that they will only side with labor when it is convenient for them and not overly detrimental to their primary interests– wealthy bankers, business executives and their shareholders. Despite his election promises to be a “pro-union” president, Biden quickly turned his back on labor in 2022 when he chose billionaire railroad executives over their workers. He signed a bill to block a strike and forced Congress to impose a contract that the union rejected, a clear violation of basic labor rights. A vast majority of Democrats voted in favor of the resolution to avert a walkout.

Former Louisiana governor Bel Edwards won in 2015 and 2019 with the help of a strong base of union support and labor endorsements, including the AFL-CIO. Throughout his tenure he signed some modest reforms into law including paid parental leave for Louisiana state employees and a bill codifying employees’ right to leave for health screening. Yet, after eight years of Democratic governorship, the state still ranks as one of the most abysmal for workers. Louisiana is one of over two dozen “right to work” states, a policy which allows workers to opt out of union membership — a victory for exploitative industries and bosses. 

We cannot hang our hopes on either of the corporate, ruling class parties to deliver basic rights to the working class. In the capitalist system, both parties are ultimately accountable to the bosses, and hardly ever to workers. No matter what backwards legislation our politicians pass, our movement will not falter. Only an independent, multinational, working class party, which unites all working class people under a socialist program, is capable of building a mass movement to end the dictatorship of the rich and put working people in power. 

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