The Corner

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Big Labor’s War


On Thursday, union longshoremen closed a port in Longview, Washington, took security guards hostage, damaged rail cars, and dumped a shipment of grain — all because the owner of the terminal was using a contractor whose workers belonged to a rival union. Longview police chief Jim Duscha said, “A lot of the protesters were telling us this is only the start.”

Are these the tactics that Teamsters president James P. Hoffa had in mind on Labor Day when he called for a war? On Monday, Hoffa declared war on the Tea Party. Hoffa opened for President Obama by saying that the Tea Party has “got a war, they got a war with us and . . . we’re going to win that war.” He added, “President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march. Let’s take these son of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.” [sic]

Hoffa’s declaration culminated weeks of attacks made by Democrats on Tea Party activists. On August 22, Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) told supporters in California (many dressed in purple SEIU t-shirts), “[As] far as I’m concerned, the ‘Tea Party’ can go straight to Hell.” Also in August, Rep. Andre Carson (D., Ind.) told the Congressional Black Caucus, “Some of them in Congress right now of this Tea Party movement would love to see you and me . . . hanging on a tree.” Vice President Joe Biden went so far as to compare the Tea Party to terrorists, and at a Labor Day speech he told a union audience that they are “the only folks keeping the barbarians from the gates.”

Neither Obama nor any major Democrat has denounced this rhetoric. On Fox News, Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz refused to condemn Hoffa’s statement.

This silence speaks volumes. How the unions and their allies fight their battles is indicative of why they fight. Today, the political left and Big Labor constitute a coalition of takers. The unions’ war is financed by forced dues and the conscription of those who cannot say no for fear of losing their jobs. They want to take what is not theirs and redistribute it among themselves — in the case of unions, to an ever-shrinking number (11.9 percent of American workers, and only 6.9 percent in the private sector).

Government-sector unions want to confiscate more money from taxpayers to keep on paying for unsustainable pay and benefits. More government spending means more unionized government jobs. That translates into more forced dues for the unions to spend on electing politicians to vote for yet more spending, and the cycle goes on.

Labor bosses in the private sector want more members for more forced dues, never mind if workers want to join a union or not.

The Tea Party was born in reaction to this trend. Tea Party activists are motivated by the desire to keep what they have earned. They want to live their own lives and not be forced to pay dues just to keep their jobs. They know individuals can run their own lives better than bureaucrats in Washington. They do not consider their employers the enemy, and they seek to get ahead on merit, rather than on longevity because of collective-bargaining agreements. They want businesses to prosper thanks to lower taxes, less government, and less regulation.

The Tea Party has scored some major victories — most notably helping elect small-government freshmen to Congress and state legislatures around the country — so the shrill attacks from the left smack of desperation. Union bosses know they are losing. Their last hope was government unions, and now those too are under pressure as state and local governments across the nation face severe budget constraints — largely due to generous public-employee compensation under collective-bargaining agreements.

Interest groups that live off the government trough have a long history of organizing to ask for more. They offer politicians electoral victory in exchange for more taxpayer-funded kickbacks. Their biggest allies are elected officials who wish to control almost every aspect of other people’s lives, because it is in their best interest. So it’s no surprise that this takers’ coalition would be caught off guard by the rise of a countermovement asking for less government. That’s why their reaction has been intemperate, to put it mildly.

But it’s not just rhetoric, as the incident in Washington State demonstrates. It’s not an isolated incident. In Michigan, a business owner was shot simply because he owned a non-union electrical shop. In New York, vital emergency phone lines were sabotaged during a strike by unionized Verizon workers. What will happen when someone dies? Will Biden and Hoffa stand by their declaration of war?

Those who feel entitled to something — even when it’s the product of someone else’s labor — will fight tooth and nail to keep it, and that is what union bosses are now doing. To counter that, Tea Party activists and lawmakers committed to reining in the growth of government will need to stand firm by their principles.

— F. Vincent Vernuccio is labor-policy counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and editor of