Republicans target labor

Before the dust had settled on the 2010 elections, the Chamber of Commerce, the corporate-secret-donor political action committees and the far right began to move into attack mode against the labor movement. After all, they expect a good return on the hundreds of millions of dollars they spent buying Congress.

First up comes an issue right out of the Republican’s second Contract on America, called Pledge to America. “We will fight for the rights of workers and oppose ‘card check’ schemes that put Washington union bosses before individuals’ right to a secret ballot.”

Big business and the corporate far right declared class war on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) from the day it was introduced. It was one of their worst nightmares going into the 2008 elections. Instead of the company, card check allows workers to make the choice of having a secret ballot or signing up a majority to form a union. Big business knows that workers would often choose card check because it speeds up the process of getting a union and curtails the ability of the companies to intimidate employees .

This is a credible threat now that Republicans control 20 state legislatures compared to 7 before the 2010 elections. In particular the right-wing blogs are crowing about the Republican take-over in the industrial states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin. (They call them rust-belt states.) These are seen by the anti-union crowd as key states to take initiatives against card check. For those who have doubts about the right-wing’s intentions on this, keep in mind that already in the 2010 elections the states of Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah passed constitutional amendments banning card check even if the company agrees to the process. These ballot initiatives were used to help turn out the vote for Republican candidates and were well funded.

We can also expect this crowd to initiate the same anti-union campaigns that they unveil after every Republican election victory. Right-to-work (for less) laws are already moving in several states with more to come. And you can be sure that laws to take away prevailing wage provisions in public contracts will follow at both the state and federal level with the new Republican dominated House in Congress. These laws currently mandate that building projects financed by public tax dollars pay all workers on a project the union wage scale prevalent in the area. (Workers compensation laws are also a favorite corporate target.)

Perhaps the greatest threat to labor will be the efforts of big business to pass legislation requiring authorization from every union member to spend union money on political activities. The Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision allowed the free, undisclosed, flow of corporate money into the election process. It was argued as if this would equalize the money flow from corporations and labor. What a joke!

Even so, immediately the Chamber of Commerce and others like the infamous Union Facts group began a campaign to hamstring the unions with laws requiring permission from every union member. Now we can expect this campaign to intensify. The corporate right and the Republicans are very aware of the tremendous political action and get-out-the-vote efforts of labor. More than anything they fear the growing political independence of labor and its ability to turn out votes for candidates and issues.

Labor’s growing role in building mass coalitions is critical to the progressive movement. Labor has intensified its focus on concerns that go far beyond trade union problems. Labor increasingly leads fights on broader working-class and people’s issues. It is incumbent on the rest of the progressive movements to pay attention to these attacks on labor and rally in their defense. The rightwing cannot be allowed to separate out labor for special attack.

It’s time for all progressives to organize against these attacks on labor. If labor is weakened all movements for change will suffer and our coalitions will surely be diminished.

Photo: From “‘Right to Work Laws–Low Wage Scheme,” Economic Outlook, January 1955, CIO Education Department. (Tobias Higbie/CC)




Scott Marshall
Scott Marshall

Scott has been a life long trade unionist and was active in rank and file reform movements in the Teamsters, Machinists and Steelworkers unions in the 1970s and '80s. He was co-chair of the Save Our Jobs committee of USWA local 1834 at Pullman Standard in Chicago and active in nationwide organizing against plant shutdowns and layoffs. He was a founder of the unemployed organization Jobs or Income Now (Join), in Chicago, and the National Congress of Unemployed Organizations in the 1980s. Scott remains active in SOAR (Steelworkers Active Organized Retirees). He lives in Chicago.