10.01.2008 0

Union Influence Increasing Not Decreasing

  • On: 10/13/2008 10:49:02
  • In: Big Labor
  • “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”—Thomas Jefferson

    If you have been following the headlines and commentaries on labor unions, you have undoubtedly noticed that union membership is on the decline. Some pundits have suggested that this means that Big Labor’s influence on politics and politicians is similarly on the wane. But, the truth is, unions are becoming more politically active—and powerful—than ever.

    And it’s all based on a special, extra-legal privilege granted to labor unions and denied every other organization in the land: the unbridled power to force members to join their ranks. To make matters even worse, unions—and unions alone—can then force the dragooned members to pay a price to keep their jobs. The unions bosses then use these compulsory dues to weave a web of political influence far beyond what their numbers would normally portend.

    As the Providence Journal reports in “Labor able to wield political influence far beyond its membership”:

    “Rhode Island’s labor unions are losing members faster than they can add them.

    “But organized labor continues to have a powerful voice in state politics, due in part to a web of creative alliances that include the state Democratic Party, environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and progressive social organizations such as Marriage Equality Rhode Island.

    “The alliances expand labor’s forces as membership dips to its lowest point in more than a half-century. They help improve the image of unions among an increasingly critical public.

    “But there is also a practical effect on elections.

    “More than 100,000 potential Ocean State voters have direct or indirect connections to labor unions, according to federal statistics and the membership numbers from organized labor’s allies. That’s the same number of people who voted for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in Rhode Island’s record-setting presidential primary in March.

    “‘They have made some very smart tactical moves to broaden their base to include not only rank-and-file union members, but a whole new class of constituents,’ said Maureen Moakley, a political science professor at the University of Rhode Island.”

    That “whole new class of constituents” includes not only compulsory union members, but the families of those conscripted members who are forced to listen to the union’s steady drumbeat of liberal propaganda. To make sure no one escapes the cacophony, unions have streamlined their political operations, often creating no less than three types of organizations to direct those activities: 501(c)(3)’s—“public charity” tax status that can engage in voter registration; 501(c)(4)’s—“civic league and social welfare organization” tax status that engage in lobbying and issues advocacy; and political action committees—which can make direct donations to candidates.

    With these expansive political operations—and this is how unions throughout the nation are organized—even though union membership is declining, the unions are able to reach a larger and wider audience than ever. They do not need the comparatively large memberships from years’ past. All they need is to be able to raise money through compulsory dues for political operations—and to put the relatively few union loyalists they have left into the field for “volunteer” political operations: door-knocking, phone calls, mailings, etc.

    This powerful combination makes union endorsements very important to politicians; because an endorsement implies not only that rank-and-file union members support the candidate, but that the union will put its well-oiled machines into action on behalf of the candidate. And while the former may be largely fiction—since compulsory union members have little say about whom the union supports—the latter is a hard political fact of the matter.

    The unions also legally have a leg up from other types of political and issues advocacy organizations because of their ability to target the families of compulsory union members and because of how federal law treats the unions. As the Providence Journal notes:

    “While the political action committees regularly donate to Democratic candidates (the NEA’s PAC distributed $45,575 to candidates over the past two years, according to the Board of Elections), [Rhode Island AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer George] Nee said that labor unions have a huge advantage over other interest groups.

    “‘Every PAC, whether you’re from huge corporation or a small union, everybody’s limited to $25,000 in aggregate contributions for the year and $1,000 to individuals. There’s a level playing field,’ he said. ‘That’s not where you win or lose.’

    “Federal law does not limit labor’s ability to communicate with its own members.

    “Labor has detailed lists of the names, addresses and contact information for the estimated 75,000 union members in Rhode Island. Union canvassers can visit the households as many times as they want, send unlimited mailing or make unlimited phone calls.

    “‘We can spend unlimited dollars on communicating with our own members,’ Nee said.”

    In other words, unions are more politically active than ever—because they, and they alone can conscript those with whom they communicate. And how extensive is this union bombardment of its captive audience? From the story:

    “In the 2006 race for the U.S. Senate, for example, Nee said that labor had “literally thousands” of people staffing phone banks, knocking on doors and sending out fliers.

    “‘To us, that’s what democracy is,’ [said Nee.]”

    Well, no, that’s not actually “what democracy is.” Democracy is allowing workers their constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of association. Democracy is allowing workers to financially support the candidates of their own choice. And democracy is making all those who participate in electoral politics play by the same rules—across the board.

    Democracy is not skewing elections by skewering those who cannot escape Big Labor’s compulsory dictates.

    Union membership may be on the decline, but the union movement will remain a draconian political force allowed to spend hundreds of millions of compulsory dues dollars to propagate ideas their members often disbelieve and abhor. Under those metrics, union influence is increasing, not decreasing—at a price a free society can hardly afford.


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