Holy S#!T — This State Government is Actually Doing Good Things
Celebrating wins and recognizing the reality of electoralism.
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In Solidarity — Joe
Being a leftist in America is perpetually frustrating. No matter how many polls show overwhelming support for our preferred policies (such as universal healthcare), the popular will is routinely crushed by a bipartisan political establishment that prioritizes the interests of capital and American hegemony over everything else. It can really feel like we’re destined for failure, which is why it’s important to celebrate our wins wherever we can get them. Fortunately, we can lift our spirits by looking to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Despite its slim majority, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) has delivered substantial legislation for the people of the North Star State. In the 2022 elections, the DFL, which is essentially no different than any other state Democratic Party, won a 6-seat majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives and just a 1-seat majority in the Senate. With Governor Tim Walz’s 8-point reelection victory over Republican challenger Scott Jensen, the DFL achieved a trifecta (control of both Houses and the Governorship). Since taking office, the DFL has had an incredibly productive year, passing legislation that leftists should cherish, protect, and seek to replicate throughout the United States.
Fun fact: In addition to control of all three branches of the Minnesota government, the DFL also holds a “triplex” — the governor, attorney general, and secretary of state positions. This drastically eliminates the ability of Republicans to block popular legislation, which the GOP is known to do.
Headlining the DFL’s legislative package is the new earned sick and safe time law, which goes into effect on January 1st, 2024. This law requires employers to provide paid leave to any employee who works at least 80 hours a year, including part-time and temporary workers. Workers will get 1 hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked, with hours beginning to accrue on the first day of employment.
The paid leave can be used for any reason relating to the health and safety of workers and their families, such as sickness, bereavement, or even dangerous weather. Anyone who remembers the 2022 Railroad Labor Crisis, in which workers were forced to accept a contract without any paid sick days can see the immediate benefit this law brings. And, as some Minnesotan cities have their own time-off statutes, the law specifically requires companies follow whichever law is “more favorable to their employees,” ensuring no worker is harmed by this change. If a company violates this new law, workers can file a claim with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry and they can bring a civil lawsuit against the employer. This multi-avenue recourse system is a great way to ensure workers have the tools they need to pursue employers for damages and punish law-breaking employers.
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In another win for workers, Minnesota established a nursing home workers’ standards board, a sectorial bargaining unit that gives worker representatives a say in setting nursing home employment and standard conditions throughout the state. This was the result of a long fight led by Minnesota nursing home workers, who, like many American healthcare workers, were pushed to the limit by COVID. Burnt out, underpaid, and dealing with one of the highest nursing home mortality rates in the U.S., Minnesota’s nursing home workers organized under SEIU and fought for collective bargaining rights, which were codified by the Minnesota legislature in the spring.
While sectorial unions (unions that represent workers across an entire industry instead of just one company) are rare in the United States, this standards board provides an effective workaround. Instead of workers at one company having to unionize and take on their employers on their own, workers from across healthcare companies can send representatives to the Minnesota Standards Board to bargain on their behalf. This raises pay, benefits, and conditions across the industry, which leads to better healthcare outcomes for patients.
“We know that where unions enter hospitals, quality of care goes up.” — Ariel Avgar, Assistant Proffessor, Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
But the DFL isn’t just focused on labor rights. Their legislation has addressed problems in every aspect of society. Early in the year, they passed universal free school meals, which is shown to improve education outcomes and combat child hunger. In May they legalized marijuana, with a few Republicans joining the united DLF bloc. After years of campaigning from local activists, free college is becoming a reality for Minnesota residents. Starting next fall, families earning under $80,000 annually can enroll in the North Star Promise program to send their children to Minnesota’s public and tribal universities. It’s estimated about 15,000 students will enroll in the program in its first year. Even better, the law that created the program prevents universities from lowering the amount of institutional aid (reduced tuition granted by colleges) from current levels, ensuring the program’s funding isn’t siphoned into university profits.
While all this has been passed in the first year of the DFL trifecta, there are also promising pieces of legislation working their way through the legislature, such as HF 685. If passed, this law would ban corporations from buying single-family homes, which causes increases in rent. National Democrats seem to have taken a cue from their DFL counterparts, as they recently introduced a pair of bills to the U.S. House and Senate to ban corporations from buying single-family homes throughout the nation. (Though I wouldn’t hold your breath on it passing.)
I wanted to highlight the success of Minnesota Democrats for two reasons. First, as I mentioned above, it’s easy for leftists to succumb to the doom and gloom of living under a government that rejects our values, even when the majority of people want them. Perhaps it’s trivial, but I do believe shining light on the sporadic cases of progress can provide hope, which is the fuel of any effective social movement.
Second, at a time when many (myself included) are angry at a Democrat president for ignoring the wishes of his constituents and enabling the genocide of Gaza, I find it important to discuss the finer points of electoralism. Due to his coddling of the Israeli genocidal regime, many Americans have been vocal about their intention to withhold their votes from Joe Biden in the 2024 election, even if that increases the chances of Donald Trump winning. Though I share this sentiment, I also recognize that there are politicians who, despite having a “D” next to their name on the ballot, can bring positive change to the people.
I’ve always taken issue with the term “The Democrats” because it lumps everyone from Joe Biden to your local school board candidate into the same bucket, assuming they’re equally fond of imperialist foreign policy and have been taken by corporate capture. Not only do I believe this is untrue, but it fails to take into account the different abilities and powers of local, state, and federal positions. What the President can do is vastly different from what Minnesota State Senator #3 can do, even if they are nominally of the same political party. Additionally, many who enter politics at the state and local levels still hold the fire for change. Uncorrupted by the special interests that tempt national-level figures, they can exist and legislate without their beliefs being bastardized by PAC money or the D.C. echo chamber. (Of course, there are special interests at every level of government, but generally, their influence wanes further from the capitol.)
Not only should leftists celebrate and replicate the quality, people-focused legislation passed by the Minnesota DFL, but we should understand what it tells us about electoralism, which is just one tool in the leftist toolbox. Nationally, the power of our votes is limited, but close to home they remain an effective instrument of change.
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