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House Republican Report On Workers Is Bursting With Lies About Labor Unions

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Ten House Republicans who fashion themselves policy wonks are out with their diagnosis of what ails the American worker. Their proposed cure is a future that would be brutish, nasty and short.

The Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog policies the Republican Study Group proposes would enhance the power of those born to privilege, just so long as nothing knocks them off their comfortable perch.

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How Billionaire ‘Conservatives’ Use Hate To Divide America

The union I lead, the United Steelworkers (USW), believes in unity, that “all working men and women, regardless of creed, color or nationality” are eligible for membership.

That was the guiding principle of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) when it formed in 1937.

I return to that statement in times like these, times when terrorists shoot up mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 worshipers; a synagogue in the USW’s hometown of Pittsburgh, killing 11; an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine; a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, killing six; a nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 mostly young gay people.

The USW membership eligibility statement is an assertion of inclusion. All working men and women qualify. They can all join. They can all attend local union meetings at which members call each other “brother” and “sister.” This practice creates artificial, but crucial, bonds between them. This solidarity gives the group strength when facing off against massive multinational corporations and demanding decent pay and dignified working conditions.

To erode that solidarity, some billionaire hedge fund owners and multinational CEOs work to divide workers. These wealthy .01 percenters separate people by cultivating hate. Some are the same billionaire sugar daddies of alt-right hate sites like Breitbart and more conventional hate media outlets like Fox News. Investigative journalist Jane Mayer wrote a book about their efforts titled Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

This hate-mongering sets workaday people against each other. That weakens them politically. And it contributes to false-fear–provoked violence.

Look, the labor movement is far from perfect. A couple of decades ago, African-American USW members had to sue steel corporations and the union to secure equal opportunity. Clearly, we haven’t always lived up to our principles. But the goal of brotherhood and sisterhood among all workers is a noble one that must be strived for. We all sweat together to support ourselves and our families. We all come to each other’s aid when a fellow worker’s home burns down or child falls ill. We stand shoulder to shoulder to demand a just portion of the profits created by our labor.

Exclusion is self-defeating, whether workers belong to a labor union or not. Because every man and woman is needed on deck, we can’t let billionaire hate purveyors like the Mercers and Murdochs split us, in our workplaces or in our communities.

Robert Mercer, 72, who made his billions as a hedge fund manager, is a major funder—more than $10 million—of Breitbart, the website once run by former White House aide Stephen Bannon. This is what the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization devoted to monitoring and exposing domestic hate groups and extremists, wrote about the site:

“In April of 2016, the SPLC documented Breitbart’s embrace of extremist ideas and racist tropes such as black-on-white crime and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Further analyses showed how under executive chair Stephen Bannon, Breitbart’s comment section became a safe space for anti-Semitic language.”

Bannon specifically told Mother Jones magazine that Breitbart was the platform for the alt-right, which has lifted anti-Semitic and white supremacist voices.

At the same time, the Mercers, Robert and his daughter Rebekah, were giving millions to right-wing anti-union groups through the Mercer Family Foundation. These include the virulent anti-union Heartland Institute ($6.68 million), Heritage Foundation ($2 million), CATO Institute ($1.2 million) and Manhattan Institute for Policy Research ($2.18 million).

It includes the Center for Union Facts ($900,000), a secretive group for corporations and wealthy individuals who oppose unions and who are willing to fund its lies about labor organizations, and the Freedom Partners Action Fund ($2.5 million), which, in turn, has given millions to anti-union groups like the National Right to Work Committee. And the Mercer Foundation gave $100,000 to the State Policy Network, the umbrella group for 100 state-level organizations devoted to destroying labor organizations.

The media mogul Rupert Murdoch, 88, is a slightly older version of Robert Mercer. He made his feelings about labor unions clear 30 years ago when he moved his London newspaper operations overnight to a barbed-wire–enclosed bunker in the neighborhood of Wapping and told unions he’d fire all workers who did not immediately transfer to the new building and use its new technology. When the print unions resisted, Murdoch fired 5,500 printers.

He also served on the board of directors of the anti-union CATO Institute. Murdoch, who is worth about $20 billion, is listed as chairman and president of a Murdoch Foundation, but it has no assets and has made no grants in more than a decade.

On Fox News, the television network controlled by Murdoch, numerous commentators, including the currently suspended Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro, are openly hostile to labor unions and are viciously anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for advertisers to boycott Fox News unless it fires Carlson and Pirro.

A former senior vice president at Murdoch’s News Corp, Joseph Azam, told National Public Radio this week he left his job in 2017 over the network’s coverage of Muslims, immigrants and race. The NPR story says, “the rhetoric coming from some of his corporate colleagues sickened him: Muslims derided as threats or less than human; immigrants depicted as invaders, dirty or criminal; African-Americans presented as menacing; Jewish figures characterized as playing roles in insidious conspiracies.”

Last weekend, a Muslim news producer, Rashna Farrukh, announced that she quit Fox’s corporate cousin, Sky News Australia, over its coverage of Muslims on the days after the massacre at the two Christchurch mosques. She wrote this in a post for ABC News:

“I compromised my values and beliefs to stand idly by as I watched commentators and pundits instill more and more fear into their viewers. I stood on the other side of the studio doors while they slammed every minority group in the country—mine included—increasing polarization and paranoia among their viewers.”

Billionaires such as Murdoch and Mercer wield immense power. Organizations they stealth-fund are dedicated to dividing and conquering workers. They’re dangerous because they breed, broadcast and promote hate.

The only way to deal with them is with solidarity. Workers must have each other’s backs. They must see each other as brothers and sisters. Their guiding principle must be that all working men and women, regardless of creed, color, nationality or sexual orientation are welcome.

Leo W. Gerard is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

IMAGE: Hedge-fund billionaire, anti-union ideologue, and Breitbart financier Robert Mercer.

 

The Red-State Trend That’s Coming To A Blue State Near You

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

So-called right-to-work laws—which are more accurately described as right-to-work-for-less laws, anti-union laws, or poverty-producing laws—used to be a largely southern phenomenon in the United States. In the 20th century, cities in the northern U.S., from Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, and Baltimore to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee, were considered union towns, while many of the southern states were infamous for their hostility to organized labor. But in the 2010s, “right-to-work” laws have been making considerable progress in northern states. And far-right Republicans like Joe Wilson and Steve King in the House of Representatives have been calling for a right-to-work law to be enacted nationwide.

If a national “right-to-work” law were to be passed in both the House and the Senate (where it could face a Democratic filibuster), President Donald Trump—a supporter of right-to-work legislation—would likely sign it. In that case, all 50 states would become right-to-work states whether they liked it or not. But even without a national right-to-work law, anti-union legislation now prevails in Michigan, Wisconsin, and other states that were once known for strong union protections.

Right-to-work laws gained considerable ground in the southern states 70 years ago, when Congress passed the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 — a.k.a. the Taft-Hartley Act — and overrode a veto from President Harry Truman (who considered the law anti-union). The U.S.’ labor movement had grown considerably under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s and early 1940s—especially in the northern states and the Rust Belt—and Taft-Hartley, which was designed to slow down that growth, allowed individual states to pass right-to-work laws if they wanted them.

Under Taft-Hartley, employees in a right-to-work state could not be compelled to join a union or pay union dues. A pattern began to emerge: Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Arkansas, and North Carolina all became right-to-work-for-less states in 1947, while union representation was much stronger in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York, Illinois, and other states that didn’t adopt right-to-work laws. So if workers became employed in a unionized shop in Philadelphia or Detroit, for example, it was understood that they would be joining a union, paying union dues, and enjoying all the benefits and advantages that came with unionization.

Although union leaders detested the Taft-Harley law and unsuccessfully fought for its repeal in the 1950s and ’60s, the U.S. on the whole remained heavily unionized during those decades. Around 35% of U.S. workers—slightly more than one-third—were union members in 1954, but in 2012, that number was down to 11.3%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (among private-sector workers, it was a mere 6.6%). Republicans, in 2012, were delighted to see unions having lost so much ground, and they were especially happy to see a great deal of anti-union activity in what had been traditionally pro-union parts of the country.

Although Barack Obama enjoyed strong union support when he was elected president in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, many far-right Republicans were elected at the federal, local or state levels in 2010 and 2014. One of them was Rick Snyder, who was elected governor of Michigan in 2010 and signed a right-to-work bill into law in that state in 2012. Indiana also became a right-to-work state that year, and in 2015, Wisconsin became a right-to-work state under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Kentucky and West Virginia—two of the more union-friendly southern states in the past—have also adopted right-to-work laws in recent years, and Missouri, under Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, became a right-to-work state in February.

Nonetheless, some northern states have so far resisted right-to-work laws, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Delaware, Ohio, and the New England states. But if Republicans in Congress, with the help of Trump, succeed in passing a national right-to-work law, it will override any opposition on the part of Democratic governors like Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania or Andrew Cuomo in New York.

During a visit to Johnstown, PA in 2014, Wolf explained why he opposes making Pennsylvania a right-to-work state.

“I don’t really understand the logic behind it,” Wolf said. “In a democratic system, where the majority of workers vote to join a union, I’m not sure what gives a minority the right to say, ‘We’ll take advantage of the benefits of the union, but we’re not going to pay for the cost.’ It’s sort of like me, if I don’t vote for a particular governor, does that give me the right to say I’m not going to pay my taxes but I am going to use the roads and the bridges and things like that? I don’t think so. It seems to me it strikes at the heart of democratic fairness.”

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO has sided with Wolf, saying that so-called right-to-work laws “weaken the best job security protections workers have: the union contract” and that it will oppose any bills that try to make Pennsylvania a right-to-work state. But union-bashing Republicans dominate Pennsylvania’s state legislature, and at the federal level, far-right Sen. Pat Toomey—who narrowly defeated Democrat Katie McGinty in 2016 and was reelected to a second term—is an enthusiastic “right-to-work” supporter. While Philadelphia is controlled by Democrats and has long been a bastion of union activity, Central Pennsylvania (jokingly referred to as Pennsissippi or Pennsyltucky) is full of Republicans who would love to make Pennsylvania a right-to-work state.

The fact that Trump, as filmmaker Michael Moore predicted, won three Rust Belt states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin) a Republican presidential candidate hadn’t won since the 1980s, underscores the inroads Republicans made in the northern U.S. during the Obama era. And many of them have been overtly hostile to unions, from Toomey to Rick Snyder to Scott Walker (who aggressively pushed for a law that in 2011, stripped most of Wisconsin’s public-sector workers of their collective bargaining rights).

Although Ohio has a Republican governor, John Kasich, and went for Trump in 2016, it has yet to become a right-to-work state. But John Boyd, director of labor and legal affairs for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, has been claiming that with Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin having become right-to-work states, Ohio is now at a competitive disadvantage. And when in January, officials in the township of West Chester north of Cincinnati were calling for a local right-to-work law, Boyd noted, “Four out of the five states surrounding Ohio are now right-to-work.” The Ohio AFL-CIO, meanwhile, was vocal in its opposition to the West Chester proposal.

The AFL-CIO has also been attacking proposals to make New Hampshire New England’s first right-to-work state. In January, the GOP-controlled New Hampshire Senate passed a right-to-work bill, which the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association and the Teamsters denounced as “an attack on all working families by special interests seeking to lower wages for everyone and undermine worker protections.” And New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican and right-to-work for less advocate, would have signed it into law. But in February, the bill was defeated in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unionization in New Hampshire has decreased from 11.1% in 2011 to 9.7% in 2015—and the bill, had it passed, would have likely brought that number down even more.

When the AFL-CIO and other critics of right-to-work laws describe them as “right-to-work-for-less” laws, they aren’t merely being rhetorical; research demonstrates that right-to-work promotes inferior working conditions. In 2011, a study by the Economic Policy Institute found that wages in right-to-work states were “3.2% lower than those in non-RTW states” and that the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance was “2.6 percentage points lower in RTW states compared with non-RTW states….If workers in non-RTW states were to receive ESI at this lower rate, 2 million fewer workers nationally would be covered.” The study also found the rate of employer-sponsored pensions to be “4.8 percentage points lower in RTW states.”

Unions, in their 1940s/1950s/1960s heyday, were not only beneficial for union members, they were beneficial across the board because they set high standards in terms of pay, benefits and vacation time. When unionized plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and constructions workers enjoyed positive working conditions, many white-collar professions also tended to have higher standards even if they weren’t typically unionized.

It is no coincidence that as union membership decreased in the U.S. in recent decades, overall conditions have worsened for both blue-collar and white-collar workers.According to Economic Policy Institute research, executives at large companies in the U.S. earned, on average, 296 times as much as their average workers in 2013 compared to only 20 times as much in 1965.

When Rep. Steve King introduced a bill calling for a national right-to-work law in 2015, it was merely symbolic; he knew that even if such a bill passed both houses of Congress and made it to the White House’s executive desk, President Obama would have vetoed it. But Republican proponents of a national right-to-work law now have a more sympathetic figure in Trump, although such a bill would need some Democratic support in the Senate in order to survive a filibuster. Even without a national right-to-work law, Republicans will no doubt continue to attack unions at the state level. Presently, 28 states have right-to-work laws, and the more that number increases, the worse conditions will become for U.S. workers.

Alex Henderson’s work has appeared in the L.A. Weekly, Billboard, Spin, Creem, the Pasadena Weekly and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.

IMAGE: Thousands of protesters gather for a rally on the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state legislature last week.  Michigan will become the 24th right-to-work state, banning requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)