Politics & Policy

Free Pass

Why does no one condemn Big Labor 527s?

Amid the uproar over the ads run by the “Section 527″ political committee known as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the Establishment media have remained eerily silent about the massive union-funded 527s that are spending exponentially more resources.

#ad#With the stated goal of recapturing Congress and ousting President George W. Bush from the White House, AFL-CIO chieftain John Sweeney recently declared that Big Labor was organizing “the biggest, earliest, most aggressive grass-roots political program in our history.”

The true reach and power behind union officials’ electioneering remains unknown to most people. Money spent by union political-action committees–in excess of $100 million in federal races this year–is merely the tip of the iceberg. The real political muscle comes through the $1 billion in union dues that will be spent this cycle on basic political organizing, including partisan voter registration and ID, get-out-the-vote drives, literature drops, cleverly crafted issue ads, and boiler-room phone banks.

Meanwhile, so-called “campaign-finance reform” has cleared the path for 527s to receive the millions of dollars in compulsory union dues that were once given directly to the Democratic party in the form of “soft-money” contributions.

Accordingly, union officials have set up a number of their own 527s that are becoming, in effect, Big Labor’s own political party. One top official told the Washington Post that after giving millions of dollars to Democratic committees and liberal groups, with “us begging them to do the right things, now we have the resources to do it ourselves.” The goal of these union 527s is to raise a total of $300 million to win key races and to unseat President Bush.

Former AFL-CIO political director Steve Rosenthal runs the largest of these 527s, America Coming Together (ACT). Initially he hoped to raise and spend $80 million. But having already reached that mark a couple months ago, he’s now shooting for $130 million. ACT has sent millions of direct-mail pieces in the process of building a massive national network of left-wing grassroots activists. ACT’s pithy mailing envelope reads: “17 States, 25,000 Organizers, 200,000 Volunteers, 10 Million Doors Knocked On…and a one-way ticket back to Crawford, Texas.”

Of course, these efforts are seeded with compulsory union dues that come out of the pockets of workers who would be fired for refusal to pay. Meanwhile, polls have consistently shown that more than 60 percent of union members oppose any use of union dues for electioneering. And a McLaughlin & Associates research company poll indicated the number of workers unaware of their right to withhold mandatory dues for politics stood at 67 percent. Experts predict that nearly 40 percent of union members going to the polls will not vote for John Kerry.

The privileged ability to force more than eleven million workers to pay union dues as a job condition is the most corrupt aspect of today’s political system. With more than $8 billion in forced dues collected annually, it should come as no surprise that maintaining and expanding union special privileges are top priorities for organized labor.

Aside from the predictable anti-Bush vitriol, Americans will be treated this Labor Day weekend to propaganda about the merits of unionism. But the fact is that fewer and fewer workers join unions of their own volition these days–for a wide variety of reasons. The corruption and political activism of unions is one turnoff. Union featherbedding, uneconomic and wasteful work rules, and lack of consideration of merit and performance bother others. Because of this, today fewer than 9 percent of private-sector workers belong to a union, although union membership is roughly 40 percent in the growing government sector, where free-market principles do not apply.

Faced with recruitment challenges, Big Labor and its allies are working frantically to curtail further employee free choice. To accomplish this, the top priority of the AFL-CIO is to change laws governing union organizing methods by banning the traditional secret-ballot election process. In its place, union organizers are pushing an intimidating process wherein workers opposing unionization must have the courage to refuse to sign a union authorization card that would be counted as a “vote.”

According to the AFL-CIO, on-the-record support for the “card check” organizing method over the secret-ballot election process is the closest thing it has to a litmus test for who will receive Big Labor’s support this election year. Not surprisingly, John Kerry, John Edwards, and more than 200 other senators and congressmen have already lined up at the trough.

Union officials know that they can’t afford to give workers freedom to choose, so they have decided that political involvement is a necessity in a big way. Without government force backing them, union bosses would actually have to be accountable to the rank-and-file worker. Problem is, providing services people want is not only harder; it’s also less fun than playing political kingmaker.

Stefan Gleason is vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

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