Earlier this month, Illinois lost a remarkable trailblazer in the death of Margaret Blackshere. Long before there was any talk about the influence and success of women in progressive politics, Blackshere was giving voice to millions of working families throughout the state. And, her impact continues today.
As a kindergarten teacher, Blackshere’s passion for politics sparked as she organized her teaching colleagues to bargain for livable wages and fair benefits in Madison County. She built a strong coalition in the Metro-East and served many years as an influential voice within her union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
In 1993, Blackshere was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO. In 2000, she became the first (and currently only) woman elected to serve as President of the Illinois AFL-CIO. It was during her two years as President of the million-member Illinois labor coalition that Blackshere earned a reputation as relentless fighter for working and middle-class families as well as social justice priorities.
Margaret Blackshere wielded significant influence in both state and national politics. She consistently utilized her knack for bringing opponents together to push barriers aside and advance major policy changes. While Blackshere never compromised the needs of her labor partners, she succeeded in working with labor’s biggest opponents to expand investment in infrastructure and other state priorities.
Blackshere was a “doer” who thrived on hard work. As organized labor throughout the nation faced troubling times, she forged partnerships throughout the state to maintain the significance of unions in Illinois – a significance that lasts today.
Margaret Blackshere was a life-long Democrat. She served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and as a member of the Democratic National Committee. Locally, Blackshere was a driving force to expand the role of IWIL (Illinois Women in Leadership), an organization dedicated to fostering the need for more women in elected politics in the state.
Margaret Blackshere was one-of-a-kind in Illinois politics. For a state with such labor history, it is without question that Blackshere earned her place long ago. The results of her life’s work still benefits millions of Illinoisans and their families. And, we’re all fortunate that she chose the people of our state to serve.
The IDCCA will forever be grateful to the lasting legacy of Margaret Blackshere who passed away on July 6, 2019.
Capital Fax has a lot more about Margaret Blackshere here.