The Attack on Labor

The right-wing attack on American labor unions continued this year as Republican controlled Legislatures and Governors, led by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, continue the attack on hard working Americans. It was Round 3 of corporate America’s campaign to destroy the labor movement. Round 1 occurred in the summer of 1978. Round 2 was carried out in the 1980’s and led by Ronald Reagan.

The ultimate aim of the right-wing strategy is to crush worker’s rights, dismantle social “entitlement” programs and destroy the American middle class. Permitting employers to destroy workers’ right to organize, which was established by the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) during the New Deal era, would allow corporations to crush any worker protection and slash pay and benefits, thus greatly increasing business profits.

Under the Wagner Act, employers are required to bargain collectively with unions, which represent a majority of the employees in a designated bargaining unit. The legislation also forbids employers from interfering with the workers’ right to organize and established a variety of unfair labor practices that would subject employers to penalties for their violation.

Employers, through a variety of unfair labor practices have used anti-union lawyers and union-busting tactics to dismantle organized labor. Although it is unlawful to fire union activists or intimidate employees from associating with union organizers, many companies found it is cheaper to ignore labor law than it is to deal with a union.

Employers are using a variety of ways to delay or postpone union elections while crushing union attempts by the workers. These attempts have successfully destroyed powerful organized labor unions, and in turn, the standard of living of the American middle class.

In 1978, under the leadership of Rep. Frank Thompson, chairman of the House Labor-Management Subcommittee, legislation was presented that would have strengthened the procedures of the National Labor Relations Board so employers could not use the law as a shield for unfair labor practices and to delay and prevent union elections.

The bill was overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives in October 1977 and was sent to the Senate. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), brought the legislation to the Senate floor in May 1978. Conservative Republicans and a few Southern Democrats waged a filibuster supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and friends of Business.

A majority of Democrats and several moderate Republicans attempted to garner the needed 60 votes to end the filibuster and bring the bill to a vote. Two Liberal Democratic Senators were afraid to vote in favor of the legislation because of anticipated retaliation by the business communities in their states.

After six weeks, the Senate leadership attempted to end the debate. Robert Byrd, the Senate Majority Leader, attempted to deliver the vote of two Senators from the south. Senator Hollings of South Carolina cast the vote that killed the labor law reform and the bill died on the floor of the Senate on June 22, 1978.

This vote killed any hope of reviving a weakened labor movement and prepared the stage for Round 2. Regardless of the false outpouring praise for Ronald Reagan, he led Round 2 of the attack on labor and is the most anti-labor president in American History.

Reagan was the first president to attack labor’s firm legal standing that was gained through Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the mid-1930s as. After failed Republican policies that led to the Great Depression, organized labor flourished under the Roosevelt administration and built the great American middle class.

Reagan’s Republican predecessors were anti-labor but would deal with them as needed. Reagan on the other hand waged continuous war against organized labor. He had no fear of them or respect for them.

Polls at the time showed that nearly half of the Americans people opposed unions and almost half of those who belonged to the unions voted for him in 1980 and again in 1984.

Reagan was the hero of the anti-labor political right and corporate America. Although he had been president of the Screen Actors Guild, his pro-management sentiment crushed the strike-ending agreement in 1959 that greatly weakened the union. The union never recovered its power after his betrayal.

Reagan’s personal war on labor resumed in the summer of 1981, when he fired 13,000 striking air traffic controllers and destroyed their union. This act gave the signal to management that it was open season on organized labor and management followed suit — crushing union after union, during a wave of strikes, throughout his presidency.
Employers had no obligation to their workers, and employers got Reagan’s union busting message loud and clear – if faced with a strike — illegally fire your workers and replace them or better yet, ship the factories and jobs abroad. Reagon is the founding father of outsourcing.

Reagan lethal blow to labor came when he gave dedicated union foes direct control of the federal agencies that were designed originally to protect and further the rights and interests of workers and their unions.

Most devastating and important was Reagan’s appointment of three management representatives to the five-member National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which oversees union representation elections and labor-management bargaining.

One of the three became the new NLRB Chairman, Donald Dotson. He believed that “unionized labor relations have been the major contributors to the decline and failure of once-healthy industries” and have caused “destruction of individual freedom.”

A House subcommittee found, under Dotson, the board abandoned its legal obligation to protect collective bargaining, in what amounted to “a betrayal of American workers.”

Most of the complaints filed against employers under the Reagan era were responded to with employers firing union supporters and permanently replaced striking workers. Employers knew that “new anti-labor” NLRB was taking an average of three years to rule on complaints and in most cases that meant the discharged unionists would be reinstated with back pay. That’s much cheaper than operating under a union.

The NLRB stalled as long as possible before acting on petitions from workers seeking union representation elections and stalled for another year or two after such votes before certifying winning unions as the workers’ bargaining agents giving the companies ample time to deal with any act toward unionization.

On a second front against labor, Reagan’s Labor Department became an anti-labor department, ignoring violations by union-busting consultants who were hired by many employers to crush organized labor.

Union-busting was a major aspect of Reagan’s anti-labor policy. He eased child labor laws, attempted to lower the minimum wage for younger workers, eased anti-sweatshop laws, and cut back on job training programs for the unemployed.

He began the attack on federal employees that would be revisited in history under the Round 3 attack on working Americans by trying to replace thousands of federal employees with temporary workers who would not have civil service or union protections.

The Reagan administration all but dismantled programs that protected worker safety. He closed one-third of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s field offices, trimmed its staff by more than one-fourth and decreased the number of penalties assessed against employers by almost three-fourths.

Rather than enforce the law, under Reagan, the OSHA administration sought “voluntary compliance” from employers on safety matters – and generally didn’t get or expect it. This policy is alive today but has been modified repeatedly by Republicans to make OSHA regulations even weaker.

The attack on labor laws in the Reagan era would rear its ugly head again in Round 3 of the attack on labor. In 2007, the final push to return to a futile society began as corporations tried to return workers to the law of the business jungle that prevailed a half-century before.

Excessive corporate greed virtually destroyed America’s economy and financial markets as Republican “Trickledown economics” culminated in the corporate orgy of unfettered profits and total disregard for the American worker and the welfare of the nation.

In 2008 some of the same corporate and conservative strategists were developing a series of bogus grassroots groups, funded by rich corporate barons, under the banner of the new “Tea Party” rebellion. To just about everyone’s surprise, a loose-knit yet powerful grassroots movement of right-wing populists emerged as a peasant organization of the corporate power elites.

This movement was a racist based response to the election of the first African American president, Barack Obama. But the rich were masterful in manipulating these uninformed minions of the right into becoming the business pawns used to continue the assaults on organized labor.

It became clear as President Obama’s first administration progressed that there was a broad attack on working people, especially those in unions. Ultraconservative members of the House of Representatives, including members of the Tea Party Caucus, relentlessly began introducing legislation that would benefit the rich and powerful and slice up the economic safety net most industrialized nations consider part of basic human rights.

Public attention became focused on the attack on labor when Round 3 went into full swing with the attack on the working people in Wisconsin by its ultraconservative governor. Attention has become more focused on funders on the attack on organized labor, such as the Koch brothers and right-wing institutions but there is a larger process at work.

Over the past 20 years, right-wing corporate conservatives and economic libertarians have spent more than $170 million trying to convince us that labor unions are bad for America, and that government laws and regulations should not protect a worker’s right to organize a union without harassment and termination.

And this is just a drop in the bucket of the $1 billion spent by right-wing funders to shift wealth upwards and stomp on the basic human rights of (98%) most of us.

The most recent example of this movement occurred in Michigan where the Republican Governor made the state an open shop which greatly reduces the rights of people in the work place and places restraints on unions. Referred to as a “Right to Work State”, but in reality it is the furtherest thing from the truth — where in reality, workers have virtually have no rights related to work conditions and other work matters.

The coalition of foundations that fund conservative and right-wing think tanks and other institutions that attack organized labor have exploded in creation. No conservative group is more dangerous than the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Through the corporate-funded ALEC, global corporations and state politicians have voted behind closed doors to rewrite state laws that govern the rights of all Americans. These so-called “model bills” reach into virtually every area of American life and directly benefits huge corporations and the rich.

In ALEC’s own words, corporations have “a VOICE and a VOTE” on specific changes to the laws that are then proposed in state governments. Republican controlled state governments proved to be the breeding ground for the implementation of ALEC created laws. ALEC was exposed after these laws passed in several red states.

Conservative foundations continue to fund groups such as the Teabaggers who are used as pawns beholden to the bidding of the rich and corporations. When resistance broke out in Wisconsin, it was the teabaggers who were shipped in from other states to protect the interest of the rich and corporations and challenge the protest of pro-labor forces.

Anti-labor campaigns by corporate interests are nothing new, and are frequently masked by rhetoric about freedom of choice for employees. The main framing of these anti-labor campaigns are built around the idea of a “Right to Work.” “Right to Work” meaning workers have no rights.

Corporations and the wealthy have portrayed themselves as friends of the working man and woman. Like most “Big Lie” campaigns, the truth emerges when history and outcome are compared to current rhetoric and promises.

The scary fact is that the American Middle Class goes the way of organized labor. As unions have declined, so has the American Middle Class. In reality, the attack on labor is an attack on the middle class. The last line of defense of the middle class and organized labor may have occurred in the Presidential Election of 2012.

The election of Mitt Romney would have all but sealed the fate of the middle class and organized labor in America. Maybe that is why organized labor fought so hard for President Barack Obama.

In the weeks since the election, the fight for the middle class and organized labor seems to have awakened both to the prospect of what could happen if the rich and corporations get their way.

Although, the fight is not over, the re-election of President Barack Obama may give the middle class and organized labor new breath in the battle for the survival of both.

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