Just before Labor Day weekend, The Guardian dropped one helluva piece about a right wing alliance of so-called think tanks who have banded together to launch an all-out assault to “defund and defang” unions representing teachers, police, firefighters, civil servants, and all other government employees at every level.
It’s no secret and no surprise that networks of reactionary private interests are continuing their assault on public sector unions and collective bargaining. Nevertheless, the jaw-dropping report from The Guardian pulls the sheets back on a new, massive, 50-state effort to destroy public unions and cripple the progressive politicians who fight to defend them.
From The Guardian:
Rightwing activists across the US have launched a nationwide campaign to undermine progressive politicians by depriving them of a major source of support and funding – public sector unions.
A network of conservative thinktanks with outposts in all 50 states has embarked on a “breakthrough” campaign designed to strike a “mortal blow” against the American left. The aim is to “defund and defang” unions representing government employees as the first step towards ensuring the permanent collapse of progressive politics.
It’s cute that they think that they can bring about a permanent collapse of progressive politics, if only because it displays the naive belief that anything in politics is permanent. More concerning, however, is their goal to permanently defund public sector unions and render them politically impotent.
The new assault is being spearheaded by the State Policy Network (SPN), an alliance of 66 state-based thinktanks, or “ideas factories” as it calls them, with a combined annual budget of $80 (million). As suggested by its slogan – “State solutions. National impact” – the group outlines an aim to construct a rightwing hegemony throughout the US, working from the bottom up.
To do that, it first has to sweep aside the public sector unions and their historic ties to Democratic and progressive politicians. In a 10-page fundraising letter, part of a set of documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy and published by the Guardian today for the first time, SPN sets out its mission in frank language that does not disguise its partisan ambitions.
It’s worth clicking the link to read the entire letter to really get a grasp on the callous ill-will and harm these people want to do to our public workers.
The author of the letter, SPN’s president and CEO Tracie Sharp,describes the $8m“breakthrough” campaign as a “once-in-a-lifetime chance to reverse the failed policies of the American left … We are primed, right now, to deliver the mortal blow to permanently break its stranglehold on our society.”
Sharp pitches the battle against unions as the start of a war on progressive politics, with the ultimate goal of winning elections for rightwing candidates. “Big government unions are the biggest sources of funding and political muscle for the left – and a major obstacle to the ability of voters to reclaim control of American government. To win the battle for freedom, we must take the fight to the unions, state by state.”
The target of such union-bashing, she openly admits, is to “defund and defang one of our freedom movement’s most powerful opponents, the government unions.” The long-term objective is to “deal a major blow to the left’s ability to control government at the state and national levels. I’m talking about permanently depriving the left from access to millions of dollars in dues…”
In San Antonio last week, according to The Guardian, the group hosted Vincent Vernuccio, “who pioneered anti-union legislation in Michigan, and Tom McCabe of the Freedom Foundation, who has sent his foot soldiers on an aggressive offensive against collective bargaining in the US north-west.”
In the article, Mary Bottari, deputy director of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), said it’s the candor of the letter that is striking.
“It’s very rare to catch conservative thinktanks talking so openly and blatantly about their long-term political aims,” she said. “These documents reveal to us that SPN’s goals are entirely political – they have no concern for workers or union members, their only goal is winning elections to advance rightwing causes.”
The Guardian noted that private company unions have diminished in the U.S. since the 1980s, going from about 17 percent of the workforce down to 6 percent today. However, their equivalents in the public sector have remained stable at about 35 percent.
The article noted that a total of 28 states have passed so-called “right to work” laws the allow workers in private companies that have unions to refuse to pay union dues but still receive collective bargaining representation. In these states, wages and benefits drop alongside worker safety.
The article tied the right wing war on unions to Donald Trump’s thin victory over Hillary Clinton in some key states where anti-union efforts have been successful such as Wisconsin and Michigan.
It quoted Matt Patterson of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform: “No question in my mind. Hard to fight when your bazooka’s been replaced by a squirt gun.”
An SPN “toolkit” further reveals their deceit in advising Republican policymakers on what rhetoric to use while pitching this assault to the public.
“Be pro-worker, not anti-union,” the pamphlet says. “Frame union reform from the point of view of the members and how the reform helps them have a greater voice in their union. Don’t rant against unions.”
The Guardian included the pamphlet in full in its reporting.
One area where SPN may run into trouble, and the obvious weak link in their chain on which to hammer them, is the fact that they have claimed tax exempt charity status as a 501(c)(3) organization with the IRS. This means that they are theoretically barred from lobbying against public sector unions or for activities to influence elections.
Nevertheless, SPN’s spokesperson said that they take “great care to be fully in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.”
What they haven’t taken “great care” on is trying to hide the fact that they are openly working to destroy public unions and the workers they represent. They are working to destroy wages and workplace protections for America’s police, America’s teachers, America’s emergency personnel, and America’s civil servants. We kicked their ass on S.B. 5 already in Ohio, and we’ll do it again. If they want to poke this bear, they should be ready for our wrath.