Politics

 

Can a Senator stop a union? Bob Corker is certainly trying

Can a Senator stop a union? Bob Corker is certainly trying

Sometime today, we’re expected to find out whether the workers in that Chattanooga, Tenn., Volkswagen plant have decided to unionize. I hope very much that they didn’t let Sen. Bob Corker’s intimidation campaign—which strikes me as a possible violation of the Wagner Act, a point to which I’ll return—scare them out of voting yes.

The vote is the perfect occasion to recall that, on the right’s very long hate list of abortionists and gays and undocumented workers and Kenyans and so on and so on, very few groups—perhaps none—occupy a higher spot than labor unions.

This may seem an odd thing for me to say. After all, we argue, our two broad political sides, about gays and immigrants all the time. It never stops. But unions, we don’t discuss much. This would give the impression that they aren’t that important to the two sides anymore.

Alas, that’s only half true. Paradoxically, perhaps, it’s on the left that unions aren’t that important today. Most liberal activists are far more interested in women’s rights, LGBT rights, climate change, and other issues that are more au courant. Furthermore, most liberal activists are white-collar, and, how to put it, white-skinned upper-middle-class people who no longer feel any deep and reflexive empathy for the working classes. Liberal elites are more interested in other people and things. The broad left’s enthusiasm for unions is still real, but it’s a shadow of what it once was.

The broad right’s hatred of unions, however, is not a shadow of what it once was. It is a seething, boiling, roiling, apoplectic revulsion at the very idea of unions. I remember some episodes I encountered back in 2009 that really brought this home to me.

Obama was just settling in to the Oval Office, and libs of course were full of the big plans they had for the next eight years. Health care, finance reform, climate change, same-sex marriage, all the rest; plus the Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA, a little concatenation of measures designed to try to take the management thumb off the scale during organizing drives.

I would talk with pro-labor senators and House members I knew, Democrats, and they’d expressed optimism that EFCA was really going to see the light of day. They’d always just come back from an encouraging meeting at the White House. Then I’d check this against some conservatives I spoke to. Or not even. You didn’t even have to be a journalist. All you had to do was go to a public seminar and pay attention, and take note of the looks that crossed the faces of conservatives the second EFCA was mentioned. No. Never.

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