Recent pronouncements by factions of the ephemeral Tea Party movement reveal little about where it stands on the rights of American workers to form and join unions of their choosing without fear of reprisal, coercion and firing. The Tea Party has been silent about the rights of American workers when it comes to fair wages, benefits and pensions through collective bargaining.
Their “Contract From America” does not contain a single word about workers’ rights, union rights, unfair trade, retirement security or workplace safety. They have been silent about the rights of workers to form and join unions of their choosing because these rights belie their true purpose of promoting unregulated corporate power.
While some observers have attempted to portray the Tea Party as a populist uprising against the prevailing powers, traditional populist movements support workers’ right to organize. Questions about where the Tea Party stands on workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and benefits have now been put to rest – and they are far from any notion of populism!
Tea Party darling, U.S. Senate Candidate Rand Paul, in his response to questions about workers’ right to organize confirms that Tea Baggers oppose these rights (see below). Just as candidate Paul does not fully support the Civil Rights Act, so too does he stand squarely with corporate-backed, anti-union forces against the interests of America’s working men and women. His stalwart support of BP Oil, Massey Energy and the “private property rights of corporations” should be enough for any sensible worker to reject Paul and his fellow Tea Baggers.
Paul’s attempt at populism disgraces the legacy of one of Kentucky’s greatest populists, Governor William Goebel who was assassinated 110 years ago. Goebel was murdered because of his crusade to reign in the power of the Goldman Sachs, BP’s and Massey Energy’s of the period: rail, coal and banking barons. His legislative successes regulating the power of corporations earned him their scorn but also the admiration of Kentucky’s workers.
This historical digression illustrates the difference between a real Kentucky populist and the charlatan masquerading as a populist now running for U.S. Senate. The record must be clear that populism in Kentucky has a long and powerful influence on the people, culture and politics of the Commonwealth.
On the grounds of the Old Capitol in Frankfort where he was assassinated, sits a monument to Kentucky’s “martyred” Governor William Goebel. Inscribed on the monument are references to regulatory legislation passed by Goebel while a state senator, as well as laudatory quotes from notable public figures of the time.
Two inscriptions stand out as testaments to Goebel’s kinship and undying support for the rights of workers’ preeminence over capital, including his dying words:
“Tell my friends to be brave and fearless and loyal to the great common people.”
The other inscription is a testament to Goebel’s innate understanding of the struggle between capital and labor:
“The question is: Are the corporations the masters or servants of the people?”
After more than a century Goebel’s question remains as relevant today as it was when robber barons controlled vast wealth and workers and their families were dependent on them for employment and survival.
Rand Paul’s inscriptions would have him telling his friends to be brave, fearless and loyal to the great corporations and his answer to Goebel’s prescient entreaty would have been that corporations are our masters.
Paul’s populist façade falls flat in light of his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act which would remove some of the barriers to organizing at the workplace. Responding to a questionnaire from a recently created anti-union Republican front group, candidate Paul responded to questions about the Employee Free Choice Act and its various elements that he opposes all of it.
Candidate Paul is so vehement in his opposition to the right to organize and bargain collectively that he answered every single question in opposition to workers’ rights. Plus, he added two handwritten zingers just to make sure there was no mistaking how he felt about workers’ right to organize and unions in general.
In addition to opposing all aspects of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, Paul wrote that he had the support of the National Right-to-Work Committee, which seeks to undermine unions by chocking off resources and undermining solidarity at the workplace. The National Right-to-Work PAC contributed $2500 to Paul’s U.S. Senate primary campaign – a sure indicator of Paul’s anti-union philosophy and support for the corporate sponsored, anti-union agenda.
Paul didn’t stop there and added the following comment:
“Will oppose all power grabs aimed at paying off Big Labor.”
Paul’s reference to “Big Labor” places him squarely in the camp of traditional anti-union forces who take pains to paint organized labor and its leaders as bureaucratic, self-serving, and overly powerful.
We can expect millions more in campaign contributions from groups like the National Right-to-Work Committee and corporate backed Republican front groups established by Mitch McConnell’s minions to elect their Tea Party darling, Rand Paul.
The message should be clear: if you are not a wealthy shareholder or a corporate “person,” you have inferior rights – if you are a worker, you are on your own and you better watch out because “accidents happen.”
Populism my eye – what Rand Paul and his fellow Tea Baggers are about is the law of the jungle – no government to mediate between the power of wealth and corporate influence and the rest of us. Workers of Kentucky beware – Rand Paul is not on your side – Paul does not believe you have the unfettered right to freely choose a union at your workplace – Paul does not believe you have the same rights as corporations.
Bill Londrigan has been president of the Kentucky AFO-CIO since 1999.