In February 2003 Bush’s Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao issued an undisguised threat to the elected union leaders representing millions of Americans.

At a meeting of the executive council of the AFL-CIO, to which Chao had been invited, Machinist Union President Tom Buffenbarger expressed labor’s objections to her department’s new financial reporting rules that would bury unions in red tape.

Chao responded by whipping out a thick dossier on Buffenbarger’s union. The file detailed every instance of supposed “corruption” in the entire 750,000-member organization. The report didn’t mention that most of the incidents had been uncovered, and dealt with, by the union itself. Chao made it clear that her department had a similar file on any union that might object to her department’s policies.

Three years later, it’s not hard to pick up the threads of an all-out campaign to create a public perception of rampant corruption in the ranks of labor.

Just last week 20 FBI agents raided the offices of the New York Central Labor Council, claiming “corruption” by its dynamic and effective leader Brian McLaughlin, who is also a member of the New York State Assembly. Only weeks earlier, the head of the Los Angeles County Labor Council, Martin Ludlow, was indicted on charges related to union contributions to his successful campaign for City Council.

Both central labor council leaders have been trailblazers in defining an independent political role for labor. They were elected to office by winning broad public support for working family policies.

Meanwhile, secret funders have launched a new web site, “UnionFacts,” to paint a picture of a labor movement awash in corruption and led by the mob. In Boston, UnionFacts attacked the leadership of Unite Here just as the union was launching its national contract campaign for hotel workers there.

Look for things to heat up as the 2006 election campaign gets under way. Labor is the organizational and financial backbone of the resistance to the corporation-loving neo-cons who now control the executive branch, Congress, the courts and many state governments. Neither labor nor its allies can afford to let these attacks go unanswered.

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