Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Defend your union

The right-wing in America is launching a nationwide drive to persuade public-sector trade union members to tear up their membership cards and stop paying union dues.  A network of conservative think-tanks spanning all 50 states is planning direct marketing campaigns targeted personally at union members to encourage them to quit. The secret push, the group hopes, could cost unions up to a fifth of their 7 million members, lead to the loss of millions of dollars in income and undermine a cornerstone of US progressive politics. A well-run opt-out campaigns can cause public-sector unions to experience 5 to 20% declines in membership, costing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in dues money. 

The anti-union marketing drive is the brainchild of the State Policy Network (SPN), a coast-to-coast alliance of 66 rightwing thinktanks that has an $80m war chest to promote Donald Trump-friendly regressive policies such as low taxes and small government. The group is funded by such billionaire conservative donors as the Koch brothers and the Walton Family Foundation.  It aims to “defund and defang” public sector unions.

SPN has produced a “toolkit” to advise its followers on how to go about fomenting “union reform” – a euphemism for draining unions of members and cash. The “toolkit” sets out “tactics” for depleting their power – “effective union reform”, in its language. The toolkit is being circulated at a vital moment for public sector trade unions. The wave of school teachers’ strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and elsewhere has reinvigorated the labor movement as a key part of the resistance to stagnating wages, waning resources and a hostile White House.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the Guardian documents revealed the extent of secret planning by rightwing groups in advance of the supreme court’s Janus ruling. “These documents make clear that Janus v AFSCME is not a case brought by individuals trying to have a voice, it’s a case brought by wealthy forces to eliminate worker voice and power.” She added that rightwing billionaires such as the Kochs “know working families only have power through their unity as a union, and they will stop at nothing to destroy that. But we have seen unprecedented support for our unions and the opportunities they enable for a better life – when the Janus decision day comes, we will stand united, ready to act and fight back against the forces that want to silence workers.”

The US supreme court is poised to deliver its ruling any day in Janus v AFSCME, one of the most important trade union cases in recent times. If the five conservative justices on the highest court vote in favor of the anti-union plaintiff, as many expect, they would deal a severe blow to organized labor by giving employees the right to opt-out of paying their share of the costs of collective bargaining even though they benefit from negotiated higher wages and improved conditions. That, in turn, would give the green light to conservative groups like SPN to step up their efforts to encourage mass resignations of union members.

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