Reproductive rights group NARAL has lessons for workers too
Right-wing Democrat Dan Lipinski, targeted for defeat by NARAL, did indeed go down to defeat in the Democratic Illinois primaries. He was a strong opponent of reproductive rights, and women's organizations across the country celebrated the victory of his opponent, Democrat Marie Newman. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

WASHINGTON—One of the nation’s top pro-reproductive rights groups, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), is giving its millions of members and tens of thousands of activists illustrated lessons in how to fight the radical right.

And while NARAL concentrates its seminars, one several months ago and a follow-up on August 9, on how to battle the lies, propaganda, and threats from the so-called right-to-lifers, workers can use those lessons, too.

Indeed, one speaker at the first of the seminars explicitly said the right wingers and their nativist and corporatist allies use the same tactics and strategies against workers’ rights, against Black Lives Matter, and against environmentalists that they use against reproductive rights.

And a look back at labor history and phraseology, especially from workers’ foes, backs up that point. Consider, for example, the phrase “right to work.” What does it really mean?

It doesn’t mean, as its corporate-backed lobby contends, the right for workers to choose unions or not. That’s already in labor law.

It means the right to use union services without paying one red cent for them.

That includes reaping the economic benefits of contracts and legal protections, such as hearings involving a defense attorney—the shop steward—for you and due process or law, against arbitrary discipline or firings by bosses.

It also means lower wages, less safety and health on the job, and a lower standard of living.

Yet “right to work” has entered the language, as a big lie. So has, to give another example, “union bosses.”

Which was the first point of the NARAL presentation. Much of the language the radical right and its corporate controllers use are big lies. If this sounds like a classic propaganda technique of dictators, you’re right, though NARAL did not say so.

The second tactic the right uses, as they pointed out in the seminars is, to use a football phrase, “flooding the zone.”

What that means, in so many words, is to overwhelm the opposition with constant repetition of those lies, and shut workers off the airwaves, keep them off or downgrade their prominence on social media and banish them as a source from other information outlets, including news pages.

And the third tactic is to use extreme “sob story” examples, to illustrate their arguments, insinuating if not explicitly stating that such excesses are the rule. Why? Because in the cold light of facts, which the right is afraid of, they don’t hold up.

And those techniques are characteristic of all of the radical right, not just so-called pro-lifers and so-called “right to work” advocates.

So how can unionists combat this massive onslaught of prejudiced propaganda and outright smears, disinformation, and lies? NARAL speakers had a few suggestions. They were:

  • Ask simple questions of spouters of such “truisms.” “Who was your source?” “What do they base their statements on?” “Who are their sources and what are those sources’ motivations?” “Have you asked that?” In short, try to plant seeds of doubt.
  • Counter misinformation with actual data. The stories may be true on occasion, but the data show they’re an exception. If someone complains about being harassed by union “goons” during an organizing drive, point out politely the so-called “goons” are really fellow workers seeking to better your and their lives, and that in the overwhelming majority of cases, that’s what’s really going on. Better yet, find a friend of the person you’re talking with who can validate your points.
  • Tell the objectors what their neighbors think. NARAL notes that when pro-reproductive rights supporters walked into focus groups, each participant thought she was pro-choice and the others weren’t. Then they started talking with each other and found that, like 76% of the U.S. population, all those “neighbors” were pro-choice, too.

Same point with unions. Gallup polls show record favorability, of more than 60%, for workers’ rights, and for employer responsibility to treat workers right, including in wages and health and safety on the job. Make that point.

  • If the opponent screams slogans and won’t listen at all, walk away.

The California Labor Federation, at an International Labor Communications Association convention last year, presented other alternatives in fighting the right we can also adopt. The big one is to change our language, from something union-specific to wider-ranging phrasing which appeals to workers as workers and to everyone else as community members.

So don’t talk about “the right to collectively bargain,” talk about the “right to stand up for ourselves.” Don’t talk about “filing grievances,” talk about “defending your civil rights.” Don’t talk about “health and safety language,” talk about “making sure you come home safe from the job every night.” Teachers have done so. They talk about helping students learn, not pay.

And NARAL added one more point we should keep in mind: Keep pounding away with our questions, our data, our records of what people really think, not just out in the community, but to legislators. Right now, they’re overwhelmed by right-wing cant. In short, lobby and lobby.

The point, NARAL said, is to counter and neutralize the right, a point just as valid for workers on the hustings or in organizing drives as it is for the cause of reproductive choice.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.