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Midterm Takeaways: Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation

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Jay Malone

“We survived to fight another day, but we need to prepare for the fight of our lives in 2024.”

Convergence and The Forge interviewed organizers around the country by email, asking for their short takes on the midterm elections. Here’s how Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation Political Director Jay Malone added up the wins and challenges.

What’s an organizing success that you had during the midterms that gives you hope?

The Texas Gulf Coast has lower union density than nearly any other place in America. Ask most area residents and they’ll tell you that unions are illegal here. State employees are barred from collective bargaining, and only a handful of municipal employees have a voice at work. And our unions are under siege—megacorporations like Exxon and Starbucks have expanded their efforts to destroy us, locking out workers and taking aggressive steps to undermine organizing efforts.

In the face of all that, the Gulf Coast labor movement saw enormous progress in electing allies and growing power this November—especially in Harris County, home to Houston and a population larger than that of 26 states. Immediately before the elections, the Harris County Commissioners Court (our legislative and executive body) passed historic resolutions opposing the lockout of Steelworkers in Beaumont and union-busting by Starbucks. And in the face of a massive $25 million right-wing effort to unseat the pro-worker majority who stood with us, we not only succeeded in protecting our allies on the court: We also elected a pro-worker supermajority by running the largest labor GOTV operation in Texas history.

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We can win, even in Texas.

What was the most effective message or tactic that the other side used? How did you try to combat it? Were you successful?

The exploitative contractors and right-wing oil billionaires who funded the effort to buy our county government—and its lucrative contracts—all coalesced around a simple message: the pro-worker commissioners are corrupt and are letting murderous criminals run free. Although their message clearly had some impact, our collective GOTV effort was broadly effective at combating it. And although our local elections were close, it’s clear that low Democratic turnout was more to blame for this than the resonance of tough-on-crime right-wing messaging.

What did you think was going to work that didn’t work?

We were hopeful that the disastrous record of Texas GOP leadership would define the state-level contests, but that was unfortunately not the case. After spending nearly $80 million, our statewide slate underperformed their 2018 vote totals substantially — Beto lost by 11 points to Governor Greg Abbott after coming within 2.5% of unseating Sen. Ted Cruz four years ago.

Trump beat Biden by just over 5% in Texas, and with the overall GOP lean of the electorate this cycle, it was reasonable to expect the statewide ticket to underperform Biden and lose by 8-to-9 points. The double-digit loss across the board results largely from very weak Democratic turnout and a failure by campaigns to make an effective case for change to independent voters.

The consequences will be felt by tens of millions of working people living in a state that rewarded the ghouls whose negligence killed hundreds during the freeze, that sees more deaths on worksites and in hospital delivery rooms than any other in the nation, and that has funneled decades of unprecedented wealth into the pockets of the politically-connected few while doing nothing to prepare for the climate catastrophes that await us.

What did you learn through the midterms that we can use in the next phase of the fight against the MAGA right?

The multiracial majority that came together in 2018 to deliver an emphatic renunciation of the MAGA right didn’t turn out in 2022. We were lucky that independents rejected the MAGA acolytes running in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada, but states like Texas provide a stark reminder of what a disaster this cycle could have been.

We survived to fight another day, but we need to prepare for the fight of our lives in 2024.

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