Saturday, June 30, 2012

Obama Contributor, Who Helped Enact Assault-Weapons Ban, Ran ‘Fast and Furious’


Steven Malanga
A new generation of activist clergy promotes labor’s economic agenda.

Everyone knows that the Christian Right is a potent force in American politics. But since the mid-nineties, an increasingly influential religious movement has arisen on the left, mostly escaping the national press’s notice. The movement expends its political energies not on the cultural concerns that primarily motivate conservative evangelicals, but instead on an array of labor and economic issues. Working mostly at the state and local level, and often in lockstep with unions, the ministers, priests, rabbis, and laity of this new Religious Left have lent their moral authority to a variety of left-wing causes, exerting a major, sometimes decisive influence in campaigns to enforce a “living wage,” to help unions organize, and to block the expansion of nonunionized businesses like Wal-Mart, among other struggles. Indeed, the movement’s effectiveness has made it one of organized labor’s most reliable allies.

The new Religious Left is in one sense not new at all. It draws its inspiration from the Christian social-justice movement that formed in the mid-nineteenth century as a response to the emerging industrial economy, which many religious leaders viewed—with some justification—as brutal and unfair to workers. In America, the movement gained traction thanks largely to the efforts of Baptist minister Walter Rauschenbusch, who served New York City’s poor. Unlike nineteenth-century reformers who sought to help the poor by teaching them the bourgeois virtues of hard work, thrift, and diligence, Rauschenbusch believed that the best way to uplift the downtrodden was to redistribute society’s wealth and forge an egalitarian society. In Christ’s name, capitalism had to fall. “The Kingdom of God is a collective conception,” Rauschenbusch wrote in Christianity and the Social Crisis, politicizing the Gospel’s message. “It is not a matter of getting individuals to heaven, but of transforming the life on earth into the harmony of heaven.”

Rauschenbusch’s “social gospel,” as it came to be called, fell out of favor after World War I, when the violence of the Russian Revolution and the radicalization of European workers alarmed many American Christians. But in milder forms, the notion persisted that clergy should minister to the needy not by guiding souls to heavenly paradise but by seeking structural changes in society. In 1919, the Catholic philosopher Monsignor John Ryan gained a wide following by calling for pro-union legislation, steep taxes on wealth, and more stringent business regulation. When FDR adopted several of Father Ryan’s ideas in the 1930s, the priest was given the sobriquet “the Right Reverend New Dealer.” His popularity reflected the tightening alliance between America’s mainstream churches and organized labor.

That alliance disintegrated during the 1960s. Left-wing clerics like the notorious rebel priests the Berrigan brothers began to agitate for a wider range of radical causes—above all, a swift end to the Vietnam War. The more culturally conservative blue-collar workers who formed the union movement’s core wanted no part of this. The rift between the Religious Left and labor leaders would last for several decades.

The mending of that rift—and the arrival on the political scene of a new, union-friendly, Religious Left during the mid-nineties—owes much to the tireless efforts of savvy labor bosses, especially AFL-CIO president John Sweeney. The son of Irish immigrants, Sweeney grew up in a prototypical Catholic pro-union household; when he took over the AFL-CIO in 1996, he resolved to restore the bonds between church and labor. In a 1996 speech to a Catholic symposium, Sweeney evoked an era when labor unions were mighty and churches stood squarely behind them: “In our modest home in the Bronx, there were three things central to our lives: our family, the Church, and the union,” he recalled. With union membership shrinking—from 24 percent of the workforce 30 years ago to 14.5 percent in 1996 (and just 12 percent today)—“unions need aggressive participation by the Church in our organizing campaigns,” he implored church leaders.

The Sweeney-led AFL-CIO reenergized the old alliance. Soon after he took office, the AFL-CIO launched “Labor in the Pulpits,” a program that encouraged churches and synagogues to invite union leaders to preach the virtues of organized labor and tout its political agenda. Labor in the Pulpits has steadily expanded: nearly 1,000 congregations in 100 cities nationwide now take part annually. Sweeney himself has preached from the pulpit of Washington, D.C.’s National Cathedral, urging congregants to join antiglobalization protests in the capital. In Los Angeles, caravans of union activists have visited black churches on Labor Day Sunday, dispensing contributions from union locals. San Jose union leaders, seeing amnesty for illegal aliens as a way to garner new recruits, have asked churchgoers to support it. And in Des Moines, a vice president of the United Steelworkers told a Methodist congregation: “In America today, the pursuit of profits takes precedence over the pursuit of justice—and working families are suffering the consequences.”

Under the auspices of Labor in the Pulpits, clerics in America’s mainstream churches—Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians—have composed guidelines for union-friendly sermons and litanies, as well as inserts for church bulletins that promote union legislation. One insert, distributed in 2006, asked congregants to pray for a federal minimum-wage hike and also—if the prayers didn’t work, presumably—to contact their congressional representatives. Another recent one encouraged churchgoers to arrange home viewings of an anti-Wal-Mart documentary, to stop shopping at the retail giant, and to patronize Costco, a unionized competitor. A 2005 insert urged congregants to lobby Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act—controversial legislation that would let unions organize firms merely by getting workers to sign authorizing cards, rather than by conducting secret ballots, as is currently required.

Unions are also cultivating the next generation of church leaders. “Seminary Summer,” an initiative created with the Chicago-based, union-supported Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), arranges for seminarians to spend the summer months working with union locals. “Within three years most of these students will be in leadership positions in congregations,” predicted IWJ head Kim Bobo shortly after the program began in 2000. Since then, some 200 seminarians have helped unionize Mississippi poultry workers, aided the Service Employees International Union in organizing Georgia public-sector employees, and bolstered campaigns for living-wage legislation in California municipalities.

Seminary Summer seems to be sparking considerable enthusiasm among participants. “Before Seminary Summer, I had been leery, even suspicious, of labor unions,” remarked Lori Peterson of Loyola University, a 2006 enrollee. But afterward, she said, “I began to believe in the labor movement again. The training gave me a new perspective on unions and how important they are to creating equality and justice.” Chicago Divinity School student Beau Underwood, who took part in 2007, is equally fervent. “One staple of a union organizer’s toolbox is the bullhorn and I love it,” he noted on his blog. “One of the very first days I led chants during an early-morning hotel picket line. Just today, I ‘bullhorned’ at customers of a hotel being boycotted by the union.”

“Younger seminarians may be particularly receptive to such experiences,” suggests Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute, which tries to educate religious leaders on the compatibility of free-market principles with Christian beliefs. “Seminarians are preaching all the time,” he adds, “and if they don’t have an economic background, it’s easy for them to fall into the fallacy of the Left that our economy is a zero-sum game that demands conflict between business owners and workers.”

Working with IWJ, the labor movement has spawned some 60 new Religious Left groups, ranging from the Massachusetts Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice to the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues to the Los Angeles–based Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (Clue). These organizations have given unions an effective ally, especially in town councils, city halls, and state capitols, which have proven more union-friendly than Washington, D.C., in recent years.

Nowhere have these efforts borne more fruit than in Los Angeles, where Clue has recruited some 600 religious leaders to back worker causes. Clue clergy helped crush several 2005 statewide ballot initiatives that unions opposed, including one that gave union workers the option of not paying dues that would fund union political activities. In 2006, Clue pressure, including a fast for striking workers, helped prompt building owners in greater L.A. to allow security guards to unionize. Two years earlier, Clue had united about 50 local congregations to support 4,000 workers demanding more money and better benefits from 17 area hotels. Clergy asked the faithful to boycott the hotels until their owners caved—as, in the end, they did.

Interfaith coalitions have scored similar victories elsewhere. In Memphis, for instance, clergy fought relentlessly—via newspaper op-eds, public fasts, and preaching—for the passage of living-wage bills that since 2004 have forced local businesses to hike wages well above the federal minimum. “The living-wage effort here was pushed mainly by local clergy,” says Ken Hall, former vice president for the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce, which battled the measures.

Noting the success of Memphis’s living-wage battle and of similar campaigns in which religious leaders have played key roles, unions and their allies have made recruiting Religious Left support part of the activist playbook—an inspired strategy, since polls show that even secular Americans consider clergy our most admired profession. The Wayne State University Labor Studies Center’s “activist handbook” advises living-wage campaigns always to put religious leaders out front. “As soon as you have clergy arguing for something called a ‘living wage,’ you’ve lost the battle if you’re representing businesses,” Hall observes. “If I was debating against union members advocating for a ‘surplus wage law,’ which is what living-wage laws actually are, we would have won.” Pro-labor Berkeley city councilman Kriss Worthington echoes the point from the other side of the fence. “When a politician or union proposes something, people start out with a questioning attitude,” he said after clerics helped sway the council to endorse a labor initiative. “When you have a faith community, it adds a moral and ethical component”—all the more effective in that the Religious Left essentially has the spiritual terrain to itself on economic matters, which Christian conservative groups have mostly ignored. The labor-religious coalitions have worked spectacularly well: some 125 municipalities have passed living-wage laws.

Some of America’s most venerable Protestant denominations have thrown their institutional weight behind the new alliance with labor. More than 100 religious organizations support IWJ financially, including the National Council of Churches of the USA (NCC), an umbrella organization of nearly 40 mainstream Christian denominations. Key NCC members such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Episcopal Church are particularly active. Though it was founded in 1950 to promote ecumenical cooperation, the NCC has become a clearinghouse for religious participation in left-wing causes. Heavily funded by liberal groups like the Tides Foundation and the Ford Foundation, during the 2004 national elections the NCC organized the Let Justice Roll campaign, which focused on voter registration drives in Democratic areas, and it renewed the campaign in 2006, this time with an emphasis on helping statewide groups pass referenda raising the minimum wage.

The new alliance between labor and religion also enjoys the powerful backing of the Catholic Church, whose American hierarchy, though often conservative on social issues, is firmly left-wing in its economic views. Several dozen major Catholic groups—including the Catholic Conference of Bishops, Catholic Charities, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles—contribute financially to interfaith workers’ groups and assist their lobbying efforts. At a national conference, Bishop Gabino Zavala of L.A. went so far as to compare labor leaders with Old Testament prophets, praising them for “bringing the same conviction, ideals, passion, commitment to justice, energy for human rights, and sense of mission to their bold words and actions, to their union organizing and coalition building.”

Having established itself in many places as the moral authority on economic issues, the resurgent Religious Left has brought back the fiery redistributionist language of the social gospel. Despite decades of economic progress that have reduced unemployment levels to record lows and made America a magnet for opportunity-seeking immigrants, clerical anticapitalism increasingly echoes Rauschenbusch’s old notion that “it is hard to get riches with justice.” Leading clergy have depicted the free market as a vast, exploitative force, controlled by a small group of godless power brokers for their own gain. Speaking to a national conference of religious and labor leaders, IWJ’s copresident, the Reverend Nelson Johnson, called for America to save itself from “its own arrogance, its selfishness and greed” and admonished an elite “wallowing in the obscenity of massive unearned wealth.” In a scriptural reflection distributed for Labor in the Pulpits this year, the Reverend Darren Wood, a Methodist and the author of Blue Collar Jesus, criticized “the gluttony of the wealthy and the abusive powers of corporations” and declared that Christ envisioned “an alternate economy of equality.” To achieve that egalitarian vision, the IWJ’s Bobo recently pronounced, America needs a “redistribution” to “shift wealth from a few to working families.”

The Religious Left reserves some of its most hyperbolic rhetoric for Wal-Mart, the labor movement’s bête noire. Clergy describe the giant retailer in terms that its thousands of suppliers, millions of employees, and tens of millions of customers would hardly recognize. The Reverend Jarvis Johnson, an IWJ board member, has urged congregants to invite the “hurting, blind and crippled” to a metaphorical banquet. Who are these poor, abused souls? “They are Wal-Mart associates who have to wait six months to a year to qualify for a health care plan,” Johnson explained. The Reverend Alexia Salvatierra, a Lutheran minister and head of Clue, compares Wal-Mart with “the noblemen of Luther’s time,” whom the German monk denounced for robbing the poor.

Religious Left leaders have blindly accepted all that the unions claim about corporate America’s sins. In backing the Employee Free Choice Act, for instance, clerics argue that laws and rulings by anti-union government bureaucrats have crippled workers’ ability to organize—the big reason, they claim, that union membership has plummeted. “Our government seems determined to undermine the people’s right to organize in the United States,” charged the Reverend Nelson Johnson earlier this year, in reaction to a National Labor Relations Board ruling that broadened the definition of “supervisor,” narrowing the number of people eligible to join unions as hourly employees. But the real reason for labor’s decline is simply that many workers, enjoying their mobility in the prosperous, dynamic twenty-first-century American economy, now view unions as irrelevant. A 2005 Zogby poll found that only 35 percent of non-organized workers would join a union if given the opportunity. And contrary to the clerics who rail against abusive corporate power, 70 percent of workers in the same survey said that their companies cared about them, and 72 percent claimed to be happy in their jobs.

The Religious Left also refuses to acknowledge the considerable academic research showing that mandated wage hikes often eliminate the jobs of low-skilled workers—the very people whom it seeks to help. In editorials, the Reverend Rebekah Jordan, a Methodist minister who heads Memphis’s local interfaith group, used union-sponsored research to argue that living-wage laws benefit workers and do little harm to employment rates. But David Neumark, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley’s Institute of Business and Economics Research and one of the world’s foremost authorities on wage laws, has found that while living-wage laws do boost the income of some low-wage workers, they also have “strong negative employment effects”—that is, they vaporize jobs. In one study, Neumark noted that a 50 percent boost in the living wage produced a decline in employment for the lowest-skilled workers of between 6 and 8 percent.

Further, the leftist clerics ignore mounting evidence that much poverty in prosperous, opportunity-rich America results not from a failed economic system but from dysfunctional—dare one call it “sinful”?—behavior. Around two-thirds of poor families with children today are single-parent households, largely dependent on government subsidies. Single women with little education head most of these households. The kind of work for which these mothers are qualified—entry-level, low-wage—makes it hard to support large families; and the time that they must devote to raising their kids makes it hard, in turn, to climb the economic ladder. Poverty, in other words, is increasingly about the irresponsible decision—again, we might once have called it sinful—to have children out of wedlock. In a recent study on American poverty highlighted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists from the University of California at Davis found that “changes in family structure—notably a doubling of the percent of families headed by a single woman—can account for a 3.7 percentage point increase in poverty rates, more than the entire rise in the poverty rate from 10.7 percent to 12.8 percent since 1980.”

By contrast, observes Catholic neoconservative writer Michael Novak, research demonstrates that the way out of poverty for most Americans is to make a few simple life choices. “Some 97 percent of those who complete high school, stay married (even if not on the first try), and work full-time year-round (even at the minimum wage) are not poor,” Novak points out. “Nearly all poverty in the United States is associated with the absence of one or more of these three basic accomplishments”—not with insufficient social spending or a lack of economic opportunity.

Gary Palmer, president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, charges that leftist clerics have become part of the poverty problem. “The Religious Left has abdicated responsibility as a moral authority,” says Palmer, who in 2003 faced off against religious leaders after they backed Alabama governor Bob Riley’s push to raise taxes. Palmer argues that religious groups can play a significant role in fighting poverty—but only by striving to strengthen the family and personal responsibility. “The attitude of the Religious Left seems to be, ‘Let government do it,’ and they would drive us toward a kind of Christian socialism,” he says.

Not only are the Religious Left’s fuzzy, shopworn ideas out of step with the latest poverty research; they’re also at odds with the opinions of many congregants. Consider the leftist clergy’s latest initiative, “New Sanctuary.” Opposing government efforts to deport illegal immigrants, the IWJ has helped organize a national network of congregations that grant illegal aliens sanctuary in their churches. Responding to critics who complain that religious leaders shouldn’t assist lawbreakers, Bobo counters: “There is a strong belief among many people of faith that if laws are unjust, there may be times and situations in which laws should be broken.”

But many American Christians don’t share that belief, at least when it comes to immigration. According to a Pew Center poll, more white, mainline Protestants and non-Hispanic Catholics condemn helping illegal immigrants evade the law than condone such behavior. “Despite the strong pro-immigrant statements issued recently by a number of prominent religious leaders,” Pew noted, “polls show that a large segment of the public—including many Catholics, mainline Protestants and evangelicals—harbor serious concerns about immigration and immigrants.”

The dissonance between Religious Left leaders and their congregants on immigration isn’t anomalous. While the NCC and its member churches pursue a variety of left-wing causes—even partnering with the activist organization and featuring speakers like Michael Moore at events—a Pew poll has found that 54 percent of white, mainline Protestants and 50 percent of Catholics voted Republican in the 2004 presidential elections. Those who attended church regularly voted Republican even more heavily—at nearly the same rate as evangelical Christians, in fact.

Those numbers are a reminder that for four decades, as the leadership of America’s mainline Christian churches has moved steadily leftward, those churches’ memberships have declined as a percentage of the U.S. population, even as the number of Christian evangelicals exploded. Cultural issues drove most of the flight from old-line churches, which became as liberal socially as anticapitalist economically; believers moved to more conservative congregations, whose positions on issues such as abortion and the traditional family lined up more comfortably with their own. So the left-wing clerics may be buying greater political influence with their new alliance through organized labor, but in so doing they may wind up further alienating their shrinking flock.

Steven Malanga is senior editor of City Journal and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He is the author of The New New Left, a collection of his City Journal essays.

Labor Unions

A labor union is an association of workers in a particular trade, industry, or plant, which uses collective action to press for improvements in the pay, benefits, and working conditions of its members. The roots of trade unionism as a movement can be traced to 18th-century Britain, where the first fraternal and self-help associations of workingmen were established. During the 19th century, trade unionism developed simultaneously in America, Great Britain, and other parts of Europe.

When unions became outspoken on political and economic matters, they generally met with hostility from employers and government. They were often prosecuted under restraint-of-trade and conspiracy statutes. Consequently, workingmen's associations in Britain and the United States were usually fleeting enterprises through much of 19th century. Overall, British unionism exhibited a stronger inclination to political activity than its American counterpart, culminating in the formation of the Labour Party in 1906.

In 1886 several unions of skilled workers established the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which marked the start of a large-scale labor movement in the U.S. Unionism in America gained political legitimacy more gradually than in Britain, by a series of court decisions that incrementally placed greater restrictions on the use of injunctions and conspiracy laws against unions.

According to author Jonah Goldberg:

"Traditional, private sector unions were born out of an often bloody adversarial relationship between labor and management. It's been said that during World War I, U.S. soldiers had better odds of surviving on the front lines than miners did in West Virginia coal mines. Mine disasters were frequent; hazardous conditions were the norm. In 1907, the Monongah mine explosion claimed the lives of 362 West Virginia miners. Day-to-day life often resembled serfdom, with management controlling vast swaths of the miners' lives. And before unionization and many New Deal-era reforms, Washington had little power to reform conditions by legislation."

Government unions, by contrast, have no such narrative in their history. Public-sector workers were already earning good salaries in 1962 when President Kennedy issued an executive order lifting the federal ban on government unions. Thanks to civil service regulations and similar laws, government workers had enjoyed good working conditions for generations.

The earliest unions in both the U.S. and Great Britain consisted of skilled workers, as it was widely believed that unskilled laborers were not suited for union organization. But over time, in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, unions for unskilled or semi-skilled workers grew into viable entities. This trend eventually came to America as well, when, in 1935, the AFL expelled a small group of member unions that were attempting to organize unskilled laborers. The expelled unions joined forces to form the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which successfully organized the steel and automobile industries.

During the latter years of the Depression, the U.S. labor movement was infiltrated by members of the Communist Party. Soon after World War II, however, unions generally began a process of purging their ranks of Communist influences. That process was given particular urgency in 1947 when Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Labor Act, which stipulated that unions would be required to file financial reports and affidavits affirming that none of their officers were Communists.

From the 1950s through the mid-1990s, union leadership tended generally to be politically centrist. This trend was personified by such figures as Albert Shanker, who served as president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) from 1974 to 1997; George Meany, who led the AFL-CIO from 1955 to 1979; and Lane Kirkland, who succeeded Meany as AFL-CIO president from 1979 to 1995. When Shanker and Kirkland's respective tenures ended in the 1990s, however, they were replaced by leftists like Sandra Feldman (AFT), and John Sweeney (AFL-CIO). These individuals, along with other leftist ideologues at the helm of powerful unions, quickly transformed the labor movement into a “progressive” crusade.

Another major figure in the labor movement was Andrew Stern, the former New Leftist who served as president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) from 1996 to 2010. As Ryan Lizza, associate editor of The New Republic, notes, today’s SEIU leaders "tend to be radical, even socialist."

The leftward ideological shift of the unions brought with it a dramatic increase in political activism by union leaders and foot soldiers alike. In 1996, for instance, Andrew Stern told SEIU officials that he expected “every leader at every level of this union, from the international president to the rank-and-file member, to devote five working days this year to political action” in support of the Democratic Party and its candidates. Meanwhile, another major union, the National Education Association (NEA), has assembled a permanent, paid, full-time staff of at least 1,800 United Service (UniServ) employees who function as political operatives -- more than the Republican and Democratic Parties combined. Beyond this, leftwing unions like the SEIU and NEA contribute huge sums of money to Democratic candidates during every election season.

Government (public-sector) unions have become major players in the American political process, providing a strong base of support for the left. As of 2010, fully 36.2 percent of government employees were unionized. This is virtually the only sector of American society where unions have been growing. In the mid-20th century, nearly half of private-sector workers were union members. By 2010, that proportion had plummeted to a mere 6.9 percent of private-sector workers.

One reason for this decline is that unionized private-sector companies, forced to pay wages higher than the law of supply-and-demand warranted, became uncompetitive in the global marketplace and went out of business.

Public-sector unions, by contrast, have suffered no such consequences because their success depends upon their ability to siphon up taxpayer dollars, rather than upon their fiscal responsibility and the realities of the market. Public employees earn approximately 45 percent more, on average, in wages and benefits than comparable private-sector workers. In addition, public employees, as compared to their private-sector counterparts, pay less for their health care and receive pensions that are far more generous -- often without contributing any of their own money to those benefits. Rather, American taxpayers foot the bill.

The Capital Research Center points out that public-sector unions invariably support government provision of health care "not only because it would shift health care costs from unionized employers to taxpayers, but because greater government involvement in the one-sixth of the American economy that is health care would create opportunities to mandate union representation."

Because government workers get their money not from a free marketplace but from taxes, their unions have a large incentive to advocate on behalf of political leaders who support higher taxes and bigger government, which can, in turn, produce an ever-greater number of public-sector union jobs. Indeed, when California voters approved Proposition 13 in 1978, cutting the state's astronomical property taxes by 57 percent, the public-sector unions were enraged. Union leader Ron Coleman said, "We're not going to just lie back and take it."

As pollster Scott Rasmussen explained in the Wall Street Journal, “Public-sector workers want government to grow first, and the overall health of the economy isn’t as relevant to them.” This mindset translates into overwhelming public-sector union support for Democratic politicians who will block efforts to reduce government and to lower taxes. Indeed, public-sector union money constitutes the lifeblood of the Democratic Party.

Union political support for Democrats is a trend that has been in place for decades, and it shows no signs of abating. In 2010, America's top 20 labor unions gave more than $68 million in campaign contributions to federal candidates -- with 94 percent of the total going to Democrats and just 4 percent to Republicans. Most of the total -- 88 percent -- came from political action committees (PACs) associated with those 20 unions, and the remaining 12 percent came from individual union members. A similar trend can be seen in state and local political campaigns. Fifteen unions gave at least $1 million to Democrats during the 2008 and 2010 campaigns. Combined, their donations totaled more than $206 million, of which fully 91 percent went to Democrats.

Below is a list of all the labor unions that ranked -- along with various corporations, special-interest groups, and professional associations -- among the 140 leading donors to U.S. political parties and their candidates from 1989-2010. Every one of these unions, without exception, gave the vast majority of its donations to Democrats. Next to each union's name is the total dollar amount of its political contributions during the two-decade period, as well as what percentage of that money went to Democrats:

  • AFSCME: $43,337,561 (98%)
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers: $32,930,966 (97%)
  • National Education Association: $32,021,910 (93%)
  • Laborers Union: $30,106,550 (92%)
  • Carpenters & Joiners Union: $29,154,808 (89%)
  • Service Employees International Union: $29,139,982 (95%)
  • Teamsters Union: $29,126,809 (93%)
  • American Federation of Teachers: $28,731,591 (98%)
  • Communications Workers of America: $28,273,156 (98%)
  • United Auto Workers: $26,949,252 (98%)
  • Machinists & Aerospace Workers Union: $26,170,977 (98%)
  • United Food & Commercial Workers Union: $25,226,733 (98%)
  • AFL-CIO: $18,744,496 (95%)
  • Sheet Metal Workers Union: $17,901,313 (97%)
  • Plumbers & Pipefitters Union: $17,547,376 (94%)
  • Operating Engineers Union: $17,103,385 (85%)
  • United Steelworkers: $14,493,901 (99%)
  • United Transportation Union: $14,414,260 (88%)
  • Ironworkers Union: $14,069,875 (92%)
  • American Postal Workers Union: $13,312,673 (95%)
  • Seafarers International Union: $8,704,594 (85%)
  • Transport Workers Union: $8,582,649 (95%)
  • Amalgamated Transit Union: $7,648,918 (93%)

In 1996, Rutgers economics professor Leo Troy estimated that in each election cycle at that time, union political expenditures totaled approximately $500 million. In 2004, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research placed the figure at $925 million. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, eight of the top ten all-time political contributors are labor unions.

The money that is transferred in these political contributions derives from the dues which are automatically taken out of the paychecks of millions of union members. As NEA general counsel Robert Chanin candidly said at the NEA's annual meeting in July 2009:

"Despite what some among us would like to believe, [the NEA is effective] not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.

“And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.”

Contrary to Chanin's assertion, however, many NEA members are not happy about paying their union dues. According to a 2004 Zogby poll, 63 percent of all employees, and 61 percent of unionized workers, said that union members should not be required to contribute their dues to political causes they opposed. Moreover, a McLaughlin & Associates poll found that two-thirds of union workers were unaware of their right to withhold dues whose use was explicitly slated for political purposes.

In early 2011, Florida legislators passed HB1021, a bill banning automatic paycheck deductions for state-employee union dues, and allowing union members to decide whether or not they want their dues to be used for political advocacy by union leaders.

Also in contradiction to union-official claims, polls have consistently shown that a majority of employees do not want to join labor unions. For example, in a March 2007 Opinion Research Corporation poll, 64 percent of workers said they would prefer their present jobs to remain non-union. An August 2006 Zogby poll found that 58.2 percent of employees were either “definitely against” or “probably against” joining a union. Only one-third of respondents said they would actually lean toward joining a union, and scarcely a third of those said they were "definitely" in favor of doing so.

The frequency with which union officials commit crimes against their own members is noteworthy. In recent years, hundreds of union officials have been indicted for Labor Management and Reporting Disclosure Act violations, including embezzlement, falsification of reports and records, destruction of records, extortionate picketing, and deprivation of rights by violence. The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) notes:

"In fiscal year 2005, OLMS completed 325 criminal cases. Indictments increased to 114, a 16 percent increase from FY 2001. The number of convictions dropped to 97. In addition, in FY 2005 court-ordered restitution amounted to $23,244,979."

In addition, the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General reports that between 2001 and 2005, some 1,142 racketeering indictments were issued against labor unions, resulting in 705 convictions and more than $400 million in fines and restitution. Nearly half of these racketeering investigations involved pensions and employee welfare benefit plans.

A 2004 Zogby International poll found that 71 percent of union members said the government should do more to protect them from corrupt union officials, and that unions should be required to provide detailed reports of their finances in order to discourage abuses. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, “Schemes involving bribery, extortion, deprivation of union rights by violence, and embezzlement used by early racketeers are still employed to abuse the power of unions.”

Trevor Loudon, former vice president of ACT New Zealand -- a political party that promotes free-market classical liberalism in the New Zealand Parliament -- writes that "[t]he U.S labor movement is now completely dominated by socialists and communists." In March 2011, Loudon reported that 96 union leaders and activists from 26 states had recently gathered for an "Emergency Labor Meeting" in Cleveland to “explore together what we can do to mount a more militant and robust fight-back campaign to defend the interests of working people.” This closed-door meeting was endorsed by many of the most radical socialist labor leaders in America, including affiliates of such groups as the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, the Democratic Socialists of America, the Communist Party USA, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Socialist Party USA, and the International Socialist Organization.

The RESOURCES column on the right side of this page contains a link to the section where profiles of labor unions can be found. It also contains links to articles, essays, books, and videos that explore, in depth:

  • the agendas, activities, and immense political influence of labor unions in the United States;
  • the Employee Free Choice Act, proposed legislation that would not only increase the power of America’s labor unions, but would also give the federal government the power to dictate the terms of many private-sector contracts; and
  • the labor-union movement's alliance with certain elements of the religious left.

ATF’s Fast and Furious Coverup Exposed

Posted on by John Hinderaker

Darrell Issa and Charles Grassley have been releasing documents that they have obtained in connection with the Fast and Furious investigation. I have not yet seen a site where the documents are actually published, so we have to rely on news accounts of them. If any of our readers are aware of a location where we can read them for ourselves, we would appreciate hearing about it.
In the meantime, the Daily Caller has an interesting story about ATF’s retaliation against the whistleblowers who exposed the Fast and Furious scandal:
House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa and Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley are asking the Department of Justice’s internal investigator to hold accountable anyone who retaliated against or threatened to retaliate against Operation Fast and Furious whistleblowers. …
“We just learned that ATF senior management placed two of the main whistleblowers who have testified before Congress about Fast and Furious under the supervision of someone who vowed to retaliate against them,” they wrote before describing how senior political figures have made dangerous threats before.
Grassley and Issa said that in early 2011, right around the time Grassley first made public the whistleblowers’ allegations about Fast and Furious, Scot Thomasson – then the chief of the ATF’s Public Affairs Division – said, according to an eyewitness account: “We need to get whatever dirt we can on these guys [the whistleblowers] and take them down.”
That is, sadly, a pretty typical bureaucratic response, one of many reasons why we should not entrust our government with too much power. The documents that Issa and Grassley have released, and that the Daily Caller has reviewed, indicate that ATF was planning its Fast and Furious coverup even before Grassley and Issa started asking for information about the program. The ATF instructed its employees as to how they should respond to anticipated questions, including this one:
We understand that a firearm bought in connection with this ATF investigation was used to murder Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry. Can you please comment on this information?
Well, that is definitely a good question. ATF’s management suggested the following answer, among others:
Agent Terry’s death is the exact reason why we must continue going after those who are determined to destroy the lives of so many innocent individuals in our communities by plying their illicit trade. For those who would say it is Mexico’s problem, I say Agent Terry’s death and all of those who have perished because of this violence prove that this challenge belongs to everyone.
Sick. Here is another suggested response:
The investigation into the murder of Agent Terry is active and ongoing. ATF has pledged its support and resources to bring to justice the perpetrators who are guilty of that crime. I won’t say anything here today to jeopardize that investigation or the subsequent prosecution of those responsible for this terrible crime.
Right, like acknowledging that the murder weapons were guns that the U.S. government insisted that law-abiding gun shops sell to straw purchasers in violation of the law, which were then allowed to make their way to the Mexican cartels while American law enforcement was instructed not to arrest anyone or otherwise try to stop the flow of weapons. That is what ATF wanted to make sure its employees didn’t tell anyone who asked inconvenient questions about Brian Terry’s murder.
This was a coverup, plain and simple, and the coverup continues today, spearheaded by Barack Obama and Eric Holder under a frivolous claim of executive privilege. In this case, “executive privilege” means “Let’s just keep this damned thing under wraps until after the election. Then, who cares?”

Fabian Society

In October 1883 Edith Nesbit and Hubert Bland decided to form a socialist debating group with their Quaker friend Edward Pease. They were also joined by Havelock Ellis and Frank Podmore and in January 1884 they decided to call themselves the Fabian Society. Podmore suggested that the group should be named after the Roman General, Quintus Fabius Maximus, who advocated the weakening the opposition by harassing operations rather than becoming involved in pitched battles.
Hubert Bland chaired the first meeting and was elected treasurer. By March 1884 the group had twenty members. In April 1884 Edith Nesbit wrote to her friend, Ada Breakell: "I should like to try and tell you a little about the Fabian Society - it's aim is to improve the social system - or rather to spread its news as to the possible improvements of the social system. There are about thirty members - some of whom are working men. We meet once a fortnight - and then someone reads a paper and we all talk about it. We are now going to issue a pamphlet. I am on the Pamphlet Committee. Now can you fancy me on a committee? I really surprise myself sometimes."
George Bernard Shaw joined the Fabian Society in August 1884. Nesbit wrote: "The Fabian Society is getting rather large now and includes some very nice people, of whom Mr. Stapelton is the nicest and a certain George Bernard Shaw the most interesting. G.B.S. has a fund of dry Irish humour that is simply irresistible. He is a clever writer and speaker - is the grossest flatterer I ever met, is horribly untrustworthy as he repeats everything he hears, and does not always stick to the truth, and is very plain like a long corpse with dead white face - sandy sleek hair, and a loathsome small straggly beard, and yet is one of the most fascinating men I ever met."
Over the next couple of years the group increased in size and included socialists such as Sydney Olivier, William Clarke, Eleanor Marx, Edith Lees, Annie Besant, Graham Wallas, J. A. Hobson, Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb, Charles Trevelyan, J. R. Clynes, Harry Snell, Clementina Black, Edward Carpenter, Clement Attlee, Ramsay MacDonald, Emmeline Pankhurst,Walter Crane, Arnold Bennett, Sylvester Williams, H. G. Wells, Hugh Dalton, C. E. M. Joad, Rupert Brooke, Clifford Allen and Amber Reeves.
Early talks at the Fabian Society included: How Can We Nationalise Accumulated Wealth by Annie Besant, Private Property by Edward Carpenter, The Economics of a Postivist Community by Sidney Webb and Personal Duty under the Present System by Graham Wallas.
In 1886 Frank Podmore and Sidney Webb carried out an investigation into unemployment. In the Fabian Society pamphlet, The Government Organisation of Unemployed Labour they advocated the funding of rural land armies but declined to endorse large-scale public employment as they feared it would encourage inefficiency.
By 1886 the Fabians had sixty-seven members and an income of £35 19s. The official headquarters of the organisation was 14 Dean's Yard, Westminster, the home of Frank Podmore. The Fabian Society journal, Today, was edited by Edith Nesbit and Hubert Bland.
The Fabians believed that capitalism had created an unjust and inefficient society. They agreed that the ultimate aim of the group should be to reconstruct "society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities". The Fabians rejected the revolutionary socialism of H. M. Hyndman and the Social Democratic Federation and were concerned with helping society to move to a socialist society "as painless and effective as possible".
The Fabians adopted the tactic of trying to convince people by "rational factual socialist argument", rather than the "emotional rhetoric and street brawls" of the Social Democratic Federation. The Fabian group was a "fact-finding and fact-dispensing body" and they produced a series of pamphlets on a wide variety of different social issues.
In 1889 the Fabian Group decided to publish a book that would provide a comprehensive account of the organisations's beliefs. Fabian Essays in Socialism included chapters written by George Bernard Shaw, Sydney Webb, Annie Besant, Sydney Olivier, Graham Wallas, William Clarke and Hubert Bland. Edited by Shaw, the book sold 27,000 copies in two years.
William Morris, a former member of the Social Democratic Federation, and founder of the Socialist League, strongly criticised the Fabian Essays in the journal Commonweal. Morris disagreed with what he called "the fantastic and unreal tactic" of permeation which "could not be carried out in practice, and which, if it could be, would still leave us in a position from which we should have to begin our attack on capitalism over again".
The success of Fabian Essays in Socialism (1889) convinced the Fabian Society that they needed a full-time employee. In 1890 Edward Pease was appointed as Secretary of the Society. His duties included keeping the minutes at meetings, dealing with the correspondence, arranging lecture schedules, managing the Fabian Information Bureau, circulating book-boxes and editing and contributing to the Fabian News.
In 1890 Henry Hutchinson, a wealthy solicitor from Derby, decided to give the Fabian Society £200 a year to spend on public lectures. Some of this was used to pay Fabian members such as Harry Snell, Ramsay MacDonald, Graham Wallas, Catherine Glasier and Bruce Glasier to travel around the country giving lecturers on subjects such as 'Socialism', 'Trade Unionism', 'Co-operation' and 'Economic History'.
Hutchinson died four years later leaving the Fabian Society £10,000. Hutchinson left instructions that the money should be used for "propaganda and socialism". Hutchinson selected his daughter as well as Edward Pease, Sidney Webb, William Clarke and W. S. De Mattos as trustees of the fund, and together they decided the money should be used to develop a new university in London. The London School of Economics (LSE) was founded in 1895. As Sidney Webb pointed out, the intention of the institution was to "teach political economy on more modern and more socialist lines than those on which it had been taught hitherto, and to serve at the same time as a school of higher commercial education".
The Webbs first approached Graham Wallas, now one of the most prominent members of the Fabians, to become the Director of the LSE. Wallas agreed to lecture there but declined the offer as director, and W. A. S. Hewins, a young economist at Pembroke College, Oxford, was appointed instead. With the support of the London County Council (LCC) the LSE flourished as a centre of learning.
On 27th February 1900, Edward Pease represented the Fabian Society at the meeting of socialist and trade union groups at the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street, London. After a debate the 129 delegates decided to pass Hardie's motion to establish "a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour."
To make this possible the Conference established a Labour Representation Committee (LRC). This committee included two members from the Independent Labour Party, two from the Social Democratic Federation, one member of the Fabian Society, and seven trade unionists. Some members of the Fabian Society had doubts about this and Edward Pease personally paid the affiliation dues.
In 1912 Beatrice Webb established he Fabian Research Department. Its first secretary was Robin Page Arnot. He was later replaced by William Mellor. As Paul Thompson pointed out in his book, Socialist, Liberals and Labour (1967): "Its secretary was William Mellor and another leading member G. D. H. Cole, both young Oxford Fabians and both Guild Socialists. Together in April 1913 and March 1914 they led two attempts to disaffiliate the Fabian Society from the Labour Party. They failed, but when Cole resigned in 1915 he was able to take the Research Department with him, thus depriving the Fabian Society of its most talented younger members and resulting in its subsequent stagnation in the 1920s."