Email this article to a friend

Working In These Times

Tuesday, Oct 30, 2012, 1:00 pm

Prop. 32: Labor Fights New Attacks on Unions in California

BY Paul Krehbiel

Labor groups around California spread the word about Prop 32, added to the ballot by wealthy conservatives who hope to undermine unions abilities to financially support election campaigns.   (Quinn Dombrowski /Flickr/Creative Commons)

Labor and community groups are gearing up to defeat a measure on the California ballot in November aimed at undermining the ability of unions to financially support election campaigns. 

Proposition 32, put on the ballot by wealthy conservative corporate leaders, claims it will stop “special interest” groups from funding politics. Yet Prop 32 targets only unions, not corporations. 

Proposition 32 sounds fair on the surface. It calls for prohibiting corporations and unions from deducting money from workers' incomes for political campaigns. But only unions draw money from members' incomes, in the form of union dues, which is the only source of income for most unions. Corporations don’t raise money by deducting money from their employee's pay. So Proposition 32 has no impact on corporations. Backers of Proposition 32 are deceptively trying to play on the public’s anger over real special interest money flooding into election campaigns, money that comes primarily from corporate sources, to cut off the small portion of union dues that go to political campaigns.

Today, corporations, unions and any other entity can give unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns and do so anonymously, thanks to the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. In practice under Citizens United, corporations outspend unions and other groups many times over. That's why corporations have been quiet about the ruling, while the AFL-CIO, the major national federation of labor organizations, has come out strongly against Citizens United and called for fair election financing--as has President Obama. 

One recent high-profile example of how corporate money corrupts politics was the recall election of Scott Walker, Wisconsin's Tea Party-backed Republican governor. Walker gained notoriety by ramming a bill through the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature in early 2011 that stripped bargaining rights for unionized public workers, sparking a firestorm of worker and community protests, along with a petition for his recall. 

In advance of the recall vote, Walker raised $30.5 million, most of it from corporate sources. His Democratic opponent, Tom Barrett, raised $3.9 million, much of it from working people through their unions. Walker out-spent Barrett almost 8-1, and won 53 percent to 46 percent. 

The rightwing corporate forces that control the Republican Party want to duplicate this huge discrepancy in political spending in every race in the country. As of late October 2012, the top five contributors to Republicans--all conservatives from corporations--had given $116.5 million. The top five contributors to Democrats had given $31 million. A handful of billionaires want to buy elections to put their political representatives in office. Their goal is to silence the 99.9%, so theirs will be the only voice heard in election campaigns.  What would that mean? The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, based in California, tells us. Proposition 32 is “designed to weaken workers and unions and give corporate CEOs even more power to boost their profits by cutting jobs, eliminating retirement security and reducing wages.” 

The longshore workers union doesn’t fight just for its own members. It, and all other unions, fight for everyone. Unions have for 75 years been the driving force in passing and protecting our most important social programs, including Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, funding for public schools and health care, and many others. Unions are the last line of defense for the 99%. 

A chief proponent of Proposition 32 (and Citizens United) is the Lincoln Club of Orange County, Calif., a right-wing business organization that got its start in the early 1960’s promoting Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The Lincoln Club was founded by the heads of Fluor Corporation, a Fortune 500 construction company; Beckman Instruments, maker of lab equipment; and Knotts Berry Farm, a multi-million dollar amusement park. Current Lincoln Club president, Robert Loewen, is a corporate lawyer for Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, whose major clients include Merrill Lynch, the corrupt financial investment firm that helped crash the economy in 2007 and then was absorbed by Bank of American with bailout money from taxpayers.

Lincoln Club Chair Emeritus Michael Capaldi continues to spread the lie about Proposition 32, saying it will “deal a blow to corporate and union power together.” This false message is flooding the airways now in California. If Prop. 32 passes in California, it will spread across the country. 

The labor movement, Democratic Party, and a host of community allies are fighting back by speaking at events, meeting with co-workers and neighbors, precinct-walking, phone-banking, distributing flyers, bringing the NO on 32 message to big public gatherings such as the Los Angeles Labor Day Parade, and running ads of their own to tell the truth about Proposition 32. 

Paul Krehbiel, a union auto parts worker in the late 1960’s, was the chief negotiator for over 5,000 Registered Nurses in Los Angeles County in the 2000’s, members of SEIU, and an organizer of union Stewards Councils at major county hospitals.

View Comments