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Thursday, 14 September 2017 06:25

Think Tanks Affiliated With ALEC Work to Crush Public Unions


wisconsincapitolScott Walker and Wisconsin are serving as a model for contemporary state union-busting. Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo: Basharat Alam Shah)

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Scott Walker's Wisconsin model for eviscerating public unions is still very much a working model for the right wing. In fact, the Guardian posted an August 30 article on how a coordinated effort to attack public unions is underway in legislatures across the nation. Headlined "Rightwing alliance plots assault to 'defund and defang' America's unions," the report states:

Rightwing activists across the US have launched a nationwide campaign to undermine progressive politicians by depriving them of a major source of support and funding -- public sector unions.

A network of conservative think tanks with outposts in all 50 states has embarked on a “breakthrough” campaign designed to strike a “mortal blow” against the American left. The aim is to “defund and defang” unions representing government employees as the first step towards ensuring the permanent collapse of progressive politics....

The new assault is being spearheaded by the State Policy Network (SPN), an alliance of 66 state-based think tanks, or “ideas factories” as it calls them, with a combined annual budget of $80m. As suggested by its slogan -- “State solutions. National impact” -- the group outlines an aim to construct a rightwing hegemony throughout the US, working from the bottom up.

According to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a national corporate watchdog organization, the SPN is currently working to weaken the unions that represent first responders who are helping Houston residents get back on their feet after Hurricane Harvey:

The remnants of Hurricane Harvey are still generating devastating floods in South Texas and Louisiana. While the Texas State Association of Firefighters and the Houston Police Officers Union and countless other public workers are working night and day on search and rescue -- and a fleet of union nurses start to arrive from around the country -- a little known ally of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is meeting in rain-soaked San Antonio planning an attack on public sector workers nationwide.

The $80 million network of state “think tanks” and other right-wing organizations known collectively as the State Policy Network (SPN) is holding its annual meeting in San Antonio this week with Koch operatives, corporate donors, and ALEC staff to coordinate an assault on American unions. SPN is bankrolled by many of the same companies as ALEC and receives funds from the Charles G. Koch Foundation.

CMD details how SPN is indeed a coordinated think tank initiative that draws on the state lobbying successes and techniques of the American Legislative Exchange Council, describing an SPN secret “toolkit” of bills aimed at destroying unions and presenting "a fundraising letter for a $8 million campaign." CMD reports:

As a point of comparison ALEC is only about an $8 million dollar organization; it works hand in hand with SPN peddling state laws, like the anti-worker “right to work” and Voter ID, that rig the system in favor of Republicans and disadvantage Democrats.

SPN’s union-busting “tool kit” … [includes] one borrowed from Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10 bill. It requires unions to annually re-certify by a vote of 50 plus one of the bargaining unit (not just the majority of those voting like in a normal campaign). With poll-tested spin, SPN is pushing this law in the name of “worker voting rights,” but it [is] really a poison pill that forces unions to spend all their time and energy on internal elections. Imagine if a law was passed forcing corporations to reincorporate annually in the name of “shareholder rights.”

Campaigns such as the one SPN is undertaking to weaken public sector unions are often highly successful on the state level, as ALEC has shown. This is the case largely because most state legislatures do not receive as much scrutiny as Congress. They generally get minimal mass media coverage, with particularly scant reporting about their activity on television. With model legislation that can be adapted to each state, right-wing laws can be passed under the radar of public attention. This allows lobbying groups such as ALEC and SPN to bypass the national media and to also avoid doing battle with progressive lobbying groups at the federal level.

As Gordon Lafer, an author and professor, told me in an interview on Truthout this June,

The power of the corporate lobbies is greatest at the level of state legislatures. While most people understandably find state politics too boring to pay attention to, the states have tremendous power to shape our economic lives. Starting with President Reagan, a host of policies that used to be the responsibility of the federal government have been turned over to the states. Even things that the federal government funds are carried out by the states. States control education funding, Medicaid funding, unemployment insurance, funding for health clinics and mass transit. They determine labor law for public employees and establish the minimum wage, [including the] special wage for [servers] and construction workers, and the right to paid sick leave.

While the federal government is often deadlocked and typically passes only a few significant bills in a given two-year period, the states pass thousands of laws, partly because there is no filibuster in most states. Almost no one is paying attention to state politics -- less than one-quarter of Americans can even name their state representative -- and this leaves moneyed interests a freer hand.

A primary goal of "defanging" unions, based on internal SPN documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, is to reduce union membership. This, in turn, lessens the pool of money unions obtain from member assessments that go toward elections. This also diminishes the "muscle power" of unions to have members participate in campaigns, the vast majority of which are for Democrats.

The war on unions is just another example of how right-wing legislative activity is becoming increasingly aggressive at the state level.