It’s often said that democracy isn’t a spectator sport. IAM District 751 Legislative and Political Director Larry Brown has always preached that very statement to the Fighting Machinists in his district; encouraging them to vote, work on campaigns and strive to get worker-friendly candidates elected. Then, in 2016, he took it a step further and put his name on the ballot, ran for Auburn, WA City Council and won.
Machinists Union member for nearly 40 years, it didn’t take Brown long to make the connection between labor and politics.
“I grew up in the 1960s and saw the progress that was made on civil rights, human rights and the anti-war movement so I was politically inclined right from the get go,” said Brown.
He became active in the IAM around 1984 and quickly realized the union is doing political, legislative and social justice work.
“The PATCO firing and what Frank Lorenzo did with Eastern Airlines really tipped me over and I just knew that I had to get more active and involved,” said Brown.
Brown held many leadership positions including staff assistant and business representative before becoming political and legislative director.
He is a man of many passions, most of them pertaining to the success of his community. He’s been a trustee of Green River College. He volunteers with the juvenile justice system in the diversion program and he serves on the King County Airport Advisory Board.
Brown is adamant about the need to build a strong network in the community, and specifically doing more to support education.
“We don’t have a choice whether or not we are going to compete in a global economy, our only choice is how we are going to do it,” said Brown. “Are we going to lower our standards of living by reducing our wages and benefits? Or are we going to compete by being the most highly-trained productive workforce in the world? That’s how we need to be.”
While Auburn, population 77,000, has the same challenges that many other U.S. cities have today, Brown believes his union can help alleviate some of those issues.
“Adding good manufacturing jobs to the city is the key for ensuring that everyone benefits from a strong economy,” said Brown. “We are not looking for just any old jobs, we want jobs where people can buy a home and raise a family, right here in town, the way I did.
“We know if we bring these jobs in we have the opportunity to unionize them and make sure they are paying a living wage. Had it not been for my Machinists Union-represented job at Boeing, I would not have been able to buy that home.”
Brown is very thankful for the tremendous support he received from his union family. He raised a record amount of money for an Auburn City Council race, and it was in no small part because of his friends in the labor community, especially those from District 751.
“I was very fortunate and blessed to have good friends who helped not only by coming and knocking on doors with me, but by writing checks for my campaign,” said Brown.
Brown has been able to rely on his union experience to help in his new position, finding the transition to governing fairly comfortable.
Working for Boeing and being a part of District 751 has developed his knowledge and understanding of politics along with the need to look past disagreements and find more common ground to produce solutions.
“It’s important to know you’re not always going to agree on certain public policy issues,” said Brown. “We haven’t always agreed with Boeing, but where we can, we make a pretty powerful team.
We have found out here in the state of Washington that political action is important in supporting the good jobs the aerospace industry provides in our community,” said Brown. “We worked for over a decade on securing the American-made 767 KC-46, which provided thousands of jobs in our community.”
The leadership of District 751 is appreciative of Brown’s political and legislative work as well as his inspiring decision to run for public office.
“Larry makes us all proud. He talks the talk and walks the walk,” said District 751 Directing Business Representative Jon Holden. “He has worked his entire career to ensure that IAM District 751 has maximum political power from city hall to the nation’s capital.
“Our union has pushed members to step up and run for office so that the union’s voice is always present. Larry stepped up, ran and was elected to Auburn City Council. He will work to solve important issues affecting the hard-working citizens of Auburn, with an ever present labor perspective.”
Brown also feels strongly about union members volunteering in the community and showing their union pride while doing so.
“Every year we have the Holiday Northwest Harvest event and our members go and help collect food for needy neighbors,” said Brown. “They all wear their Machinists Union jackets and the union is recognized as an important component in the community.”
The city of Auburn has some of the highest union density of any community in Washington—a state that boasts nearly 20 percent union membership. For Brown, being labeled a union candidate wasn’t a liability for him, but an asset. But, he stresses the importance of not relying solely on work in the labor movement.
“We don’t want to be narrow in our focus when we are running for office,” said Brown. “We need to make sure people know what we stand for such as where you stand on transportation and other social issues.
“We need to make sure that we are working on issues that are important to all the community, be aware of the work that is being done and work with those people so we can come together for the greater good.”
Brown has a message for other union members on the fence about being involved in politics.
“Politics is important and elections matter,” said Brown. “Be involved. If you don’t want to run for office, find out who is. We need to work hard to make sure we are electing people who support our union and our jobs.
“My dad taught me that we have an obligation in a democracy to make it work. We can’t sit back and expect others to do it for us. We have to do it ourselves. There are people on our side and there are people who are against us. We need to know who is who and work for those that will help us, and fight those who are unwilling to help working people.”