The extremists’ plot to bust unions

George Gresham, President of 1199SEIU | 6/7/2018, 10:52 a.m.
While the American public has focused on scandals swirling around the 45th president, the corporate and financial elite, through extremist ...
George Gresham Contributed

While the American public has focused on scandals swirling around the 45th president, the corporate and financial elite, through extremist organizations, have launched a nationwide campaign to cripple their primary opposition—unions, and particularly public unions. Recent articles in The Guardian, the progressive British daily, and In These Times, a progressive monthly, authoritatively document the campaign.

The In These Times article, written by Mary Bottari of the Center for Media Democracy, is entitled “Behind Janus: Documents Reveal Decade-Long Plot to Kill Public-Sector Unions.” Janus refers to the case currently before the Supreme Court, Janus v. AFSCME. The plaintiff challenges union security—the right of unions to collect “fair share” fees for collective bargaining from bargaining-unit workers who have chosen not to join the union. This opting out, known also as freeloading, means fewer union resources are available to unions to represent workers, file grievances and bargain with employers. Meanwhile, these workers benefit from wage gains, benefits and working conditions won by the union.

Both news articles describe how the State Policy Network, a nationwide alliance of 66 think tanks and some 87 other groups, has developed a toolkit on opting out. Bankrolling SPN are billionaires such as the Koch brothers, the Walton family—owners of Wal-Mart—and other rightwing high rollers.

SPN coordinates its union-busting efforts with two other far-right behemoths heavily financed by the Koch brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity. These groups have been working for decades in statehouses and in Congress to realize the aim of one of its far-right leaders, Grover Norquist, who declared, “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.”

These rightist extremists and corporate CEOs have found a willing accomplice in the 45th president. The current administration has put the dismantling of environmental regulations and consumer and worker protections, and curbs on corporations, in overdrive. For example, last month, President Trump signed executive orders that made it easier for managers to fire federal employees and limited the time federal employees can use on union matters.

A ruling by the majority-conservative Supreme Court would go a long way toward removing unions as a political check on the power of corporations. These far-right groups admit that although public unions are currently in their crosshairs, their ultimate targets are the broad progressive movement and the Democratic Party. They understand that the Democratic Party receives a hefty amount of financial and human resources from unions.

To date, their assaults on unions have borne fruit. A key factor in Trump’s 2016 victory was a weakened labor movement, particularly in states such as

Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. Labor’s decline in these states not only deprived the Democrats of essential resources but also weakened the unions’ ability to influence workers ideologically and politically, and to inoculate white workers against the virus of racism.

The campaign extends beyond the workplace. Without fair-share fees, all our communities that rely on teachers, firefighters, public health care workers, child care and other public services would be severely affected because these workers’ ability to fight for themselves and those they serve will be sharply curtailed. Hardest hit would be people of color and women, as well as their communities, because they are disproportionately represented in public-sector unions.