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Working In These Times

Tuesday, Aug 24, 2010, 6:30 am

EFCA’s Dead, but Fear of It Still Driving Anti-Worker Measures

BY Mike Elk

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Months after Arizona politicians passed S.B. 1070, the controversial and now delayed immigration law, the right wingers are going on the attack against not just hispanic workers, but all workers.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jan Brewer called a special session of the legislature into session to put an anti-union amendment on the November ballot. If voters approve the measure, it would block any charges to labor law made by federal passage of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

Eight other states have similar measures on their respective ballots that aim to do the same thing. For a variety reasons, many legal scholars question whether these measures are even constitutional—one reason being that Congress never actually passed the Employee Free Choice Act. In fact, early this month the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that as crafted, the amendment is illegal.

Beyond that obvious obstacle, the larger question is: Why would big business and its Republican allies in the Arizona legislature want to push the measure  if card check (as EFCA was often referred to) is already dead? Answer: They want to crush the ability of organized labor to shape the overall political agenda.

They want to beat up labor so badly that they will never push for EFCA again. The Chamber of Commerce keeps pushing against the bill because they want to push unions back into making concessions on weakening current law. We have already seen the success of Big Business to change the political dynamic by its ability to stop the routine nomination of Craig Becker to the NLRB.

Organized labor spent tens of millions of dollars to fight for EFCA, and it got nothing in the way of labor law reform in return. Instead, labor’s defeat and the loss of the public narrative about the role of unions have created political openings for big business to go on the attack against labor.

If labor had passed even a compromised version of the Employee Free Choice Act, we would have never had the problems over appointing Democrats to the National Labor Relations Board. Instead, Democrats fumbled on offensive and labor finds itself on the defensive once again.

Big Business was able to so successfully tar and feather labor that now we are seeing dramatic changes in the way the public views labor. As a result, the popularity of U.S. unions is at a 70-year low—a Pew survey this year showed that unions had a favorability rating of 41 percent, down dramatically from 58 percent in 2007.

Public employees and their pension funds are under attack all over the country as a result of the negative public narrative against unions. The public hysteria against union is so high that even labor's allies and its own union members are turning against organized labor. 

The person helping to lead the attack against unions in New Jersey is an Ironworkers union leader himself, Democratic State Senate President Stephen Sweeney. Sweeney was quoted in the New York Times saying “I’m a labor leader, but I’m also elected to do right by all the people in the state of New Jersey, and not just union members.”

Let the example of Sweeney serve as a stern lesson to the labor leaders who stayed silent and made a deal with Rahm Emanuel to wait to push EFCA until after healthcare "reform" passed. If you don’t stand up to the corporate interests and their political allies, you will be forced to sit down and work on their side. Any time you don't take advantage of even a small opportunity to win, your opponents will turn it into an even greater defeat.

As one of my mentors, legendary DC press man Toby Chaudhuri, is famous for saying, "If you're not winning, you're losing. If you're not defining yourselves, your opponents are defining you." Labor’s defeat on EFCA has allowed Big Business to increasingly define organized labor's power, and the public's perception of it.

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Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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