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Anti-Union Campaigns and The Big Three Bullies
Corporate America and a well-funded network of ultraconservative think tanks and policy centers are raising tens of millions of dollars to fight pending legislation allowing union card check campaigns. These campaigns collect a majority of worker signatures to qualify for their recognition as a union bargaining unit. The official title of the legislation is the "Employee Free Choice Act."
The right-wing campaign is built around slogans claiming supervised "secret ballots" are a better "more American" system. What they don't say is that corporate America has an arsenal of strategies and tactics to delay elections and intimidate and fire pro-union employees, rendering the current ballot system unfair and unworkable.
The long history of ultraconservative anti-union employer group activities makes clear why supporting something like the union card check legislation should be a high priority for activists on the left.
Up until the 1930s the two main employer organizations actively mounting campaigns to block union organizing were the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In the mid-1930s the newly created United States Business and Industry Council joined them. The three groups became the backbone of the early anti-union "Right to Work Network."
National Association of Manufacturers
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1895. NAM "tended to represent small businessmen, was fiercely anti-union and strongly endorsed the 'open shop' crusade to ban union influence in industrial plants," according to historian M.J. Heale in her book American Anticommunism.
The organization's position on labor unions was clear from the beginning, as it explains in its own history: "The genesis of the NAM's commitment to sound employee relations policies was the anthracite coal strike of 1902. The following year, the NAM established an internal department to advocate open shop labor policies."
The term "open shop" was coined at a NAM meeting in 1903. This was a way to stir up anti-union sentiment by reframing the debate as between an "open shop" versus what employers call a "closed shop," shifting the focus from a group effort for economic fairness through union security to a claim of individual rights and liberties, observes pro-union journalist Karin Chenoweth.
This type of reframing of public perceptions has been of special interest to NAM. In 1934, concern over many of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal proposals and key labor issues prompted NAM to launch a public relations campaign "for the dissemination of sound American doctrines to the public." During the next 13 years, NAM's National Industrial Information Committee spent more than $15 million on leaflets, radio speeches, films for schools, reprints of articles by economists, and other public relations efforts. A daily NAM column appeared in 260 newspapers with a circulation of more than 4.5 million in 1936. NAM's movie shorts were seen by six million in 1937.
NAM also directly attacked unions such as the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. "Red scare tactics were frequently employed in attempts to halt the surge of unionization," writes Heale, with NAM issuing one pamphlet titled "Join the CIO and Help Build a Soviet America." After the AFL and CIO unions merged, one NAM leader suggested businesses needed to help NAM "organize for solidarity or face a powerful attack on the free enterprise system" by unions in the 1950s, according to Gilbert J. Gall, author of The Politics of Right to Work.
Along the way, NAM claims credit for having "helped launch the National Council of Commerce in 1907." This was a predecessor group to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber of Commerce
In 1912 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was established at the suggestion of President Taft. A popular image of the Chamber of Commerce is a group of smiling business-owners shaking hands with the town mayor at the opening of a new hardware store. That's one accurate snapshot—but there are other pictures worth examining. The national organization has a long history of promoting anti-union activism and legislation.
The Chamber was active in various "open shop" campaigns. Around World War I it helped formulate what was called the "American Plan." The theme of this campaign was that "voluntary unionism" was one thing, but the union shop was "un-American," wrote Chenoweth.
Local union #38 of the plumbers and pipefitters teaches its members about its roots battling the anti-union American Plan in the 1920s: "In San Francisco, the Industrial Relations Committee of the Chamber of Commerce established the Industrial Association, which, working with the Builders Exchange, an employers' organization, set out to break the back of the city's unions. In January 1922 the city's Building Trades Council refused to submit to an across-the-board wage cut, and the employers responded with a citywide lockout. When the unions agreed to accept the new rates, the employers offered to rehire only those men who agreed to work in open shops."
Chamber rhetoric about labor unions in the 1930s presaged the later McCarthy period reliance on red-baiting—the use of dubious or invented claims of communist allegiances to unfairly tar a target in the public mind. This was not entirely a marginal view at the time.
According to Heale: "The United States Chamber of Commerce represented the views of many small businessmen and some big ones in its periodic imprecations against the New Deal, labor unions, and anything resembling socialism…." The Chamber also set up a Voluntary Unionism committee to spread the "open shop" message.
U.S. Business and Industry Council
Even further to the right of NAM and the Chamber is the United States Business and Industry Council (USBIC). John E. Edgerton was the first president of the Council after serving as president of NAM. Formed in 1933 as the Southern States Industrial Council, the organizing conference was attended by "presidents and secretaries of Southern state manufacturers' associations." The roots of USBIC tap directly into the backlash against Roosevelt. According to the official USBIC history: "The United States Business and Industry Council (USBIC) was established in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. Its founders intended it to respond to the economic challenges of that time, as well as to the political challenges posed to business by the Roosevelt Administration."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt the government should play a constructive role in promoting economic fairness and social justice. "A huge proportion of all those who became unionists during the 1930s and 1940s were African Americans, Mexican Americans, or European immigrants. For them the New Deal and the new unionism represented not just a higher standard of living," explains Heale, "but a doorway that opened onto the democratic promise of American life."
When anti-union forces mobilized to block Roosevelt's agenda, they were eventually able to build an ad-hoc, but powerful coalition of conservative and libertarian business leaders, right-wing Christians, anti-Communists, anti-Semites, and white supremacists seeking the "rollback" of Roosevelt's programs.
Chip Berlet is senior analyst at Political Research Associates. This article and others in this series are available at: http://www.publiceye.org/jump/zmag.html.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.