Union rally this Saturday – meanwhile, look who’s laughing at you

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March for Equality and Social Justice in Murray, KY -- 2017/01/21 (photo by Berry Craig)
March for Equality and Social Justice in Murray, KY -- 2017/01/21 (photo by Berry Craig)

“REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER”
UNION RALLY

Saturday, October 27, Paducah Convention Center, 415 Park Avenue
1:00 pm – Music and socializing
2:00 to 3:00 pm – Rally
House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, Attorney Gen. Andy Beshear, Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan, and Kyle Henderson, president of the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council

 

Hear the snickering?

Turn around. See the guys making fun of you?

It’s Republican union-busters.

They think you’ll again ditch the candidates your union endorsed and vote for them on the social issues. “It’s the Three Gs con job – God, guns, and gays,” said Larry Sanderson, a veteran Kentucky union leader.

The old sucker play has an “I” for “immigrants” this year.

The union rally this Saturday

Larry Sanderson
Larry Sanderson, emcee for the labor lunch the day before Fancy Farm. (photo by Berry Craig)

This Saturday, Sanderson, a retired UA international representative, will emcee a “Remember in November” rally in Paducah, his hometown. The featured speakers will be House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, Attorney Gen. Andy Beshear, Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan, and Kyle Henderson, president of the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, one of the rally sponsors.

Beshear has announced his candidacy for governor next year.

Regional labor-endorsed candidates are also expected.

The rally is set for 2 to 3 p.m. at the Paducah Convention Center, 415 Park Ave. Everybody is invited for music and socializing starting at 1. The other sponsors are the state Pipe Trades, West Kentucky Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council.

Republicans fishing for union votes

Meanwhile, Republicans, for the umpteenth time, are fishing for union votes with the social issues bait (the Three Gs). They’ve been at it for almost 40 years.

Their idea is to dupe working-class voters by hiding the GOP’s real agenda: making the rich richer and wiping out unions.

You’d think it would be mission impossible to get working stiffs to vote against their own livelihoods. But with the social issues, it’s been mission accomplished for the GOP.

“The great dream of conservatives ever since the thirties has been a working class movement that for once takes their side of the issues, that votes Republican and reverses the achievements of working-class movements of the past,” Thomas Frank wrote in What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.

Published in 2004, the book is as timely as ever.

Added the author: “Strip today’s Kansans of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land, and next thing you know they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEO, and there’s a good chance they’ll join the John Birch Society. But ask them about the remedies their ancestors proposed (unions, antitrust, public ownership), and you might as well be referring to the days when knighthood was in flower.”

You could substitute “Kentucky” or any other red state for “Kansas.”

Blue Grass State Republicans are counting on a big chunk of working-class voters sticking with them on Nov. 6, despite their party’s 2017-2018 legislative record of

  • Passing “right to work”
  • Repealing the prevailing wage
  • Opening the door to charter schools
  • Going after workers’ comp
  • Going after public pensions
  • Cutting funding for public schools
  • Passing a tax bill that mostly benefits the wealthy

The Republicans expect the social issues to trump that slew of anti-worker bills. (For the record: A few GOP lawmakers have bucked their leadership and sided with the Democrats against the Republican war on workers.)

The Republican bait-and-switch

The Three-Gs-plus-I flimflam is basically “bait and switch,” wrote Joanne Ricca of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO in “Politics in America: The Right Wing Attack on the American Labor Movement.”

The paper was published in 2002. It’s still timely, too.

“The Right needed to build an electoral base to take power,” she explained. A two-prong strategy emerged:

  • “Create issue groups, especially around the gun control and abortion issues, to manipulate voters to support Right Wing candidates against their own economic interests.”
  • “Create a religious front to manipulate peoples’ faith to support right wing candidates.”

The Right understood that its candidates could hardly campaign “openly and honestly on an ideology that is a threat to a majority of the people and our democracy.” So, the Right deliberately manipulated “voters through single issues – particularly abortion, gun control, school prayer, crime, and taxes.”

The bait and switch thus “allowed candidates to conceal their real pro-corporate, anti-worker agenda.”

The war on unions

All along, unions have been exposing the Right’s social issues fraud. (Most union members still vote for union-endorsed candidates.) Indeed, the Right fears organized labor as its biggest obstacle to success.

Simultaneous with their social issues shell game, Republicans declared holy war on unions.

“Unions are the most powerful worker-based organizations in our society,” Ricca wrote, adding, “….They can organize effective opposition to the right. Non-union workers never gather together in such a such a way, have the resources to fight for their rights, or work collectively to promote their economic interests.

“Unions can also join with other progressive organizations (seniors, women, civil rights, environmental, and consumer) to create a powerful and effective force to challenge and defeat the Right. Unions are the major source of funds to elect candidates who will truly represent the economic interests of working families. Union households vote at a significantly higher percentage than non-union households, so union members have much greater power to decide which candidate will win.”

So, in addition to pushing a pointedly anti-union legislative program—notably redoubling its campaigns to pass state “right to work” laws—the Right trotted out the social issues to split the union movement. Ricca quoted Neal Knox and Ralph Reed.

Said Knox, a former National Rifle Association bigwig: “[The gun issue] is the one thing that will spin the blue-collar union member away from his union.”

Said Reed, who helped start the Christian Coalition: [Issues like school prayer and abortion] … are the bridge that gets you to constituencies that aren’t with you on the economic issues.”

Not coincidentally, the NRA and Christian Coalition are allied with the National Right to Work Committee, Ricca pointed out.

The bait-and-switch under Reagan

I remember the first time I saw the Three Gs bait-and-switch work on union members. It was 38 Octobers ago.

I was a daily newspaper feature writer helping cover a campaign stop by President Jimmy Carter at a United Mine Workers of America coal mine in southern Illinois. If memory serves, then UMWA President Richard Trumka accompanied Carter.

The UMWA, the AFL-CIO, and just about every other union had endorsed Carter over Republican Ronald Reagan. (An exception was PATCO, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers.)

Reagan had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in Hollywood and a New Deal Democrat. But he ultimately betrayed his union roots, heeled hard-right, and became a Barry Goldwater Republican.

Reagan ran on a reactionary, pro-corporate and anti-union platform while pandering to the Three Gs.

(Reagan paid PATCO for its loyalty by smashing the union when it went on strike. He went on to become the most anti-union president since Herbert Hoover).

Given that the UMWA was backing Carter, I was surprised to spot a few miners with Reagan signs. I asked them why they opposed the president. Their answers dumbfounded me, but I dutifully reported what they said.

“If Carter gets back in, he’ll take away our guns,” one told me. “Reagan’s going to stop abortion and put prayer back in schools,” said another.

Gays and immigration added to the bait-and-switch

Since 1980, gay rights—and now immigration—have become other GOP social issues bugbears.

Sanderson said he had a ready answer for union members who vote on guns and not on union issues:

“‘You can’t buy a gun if you don’t have a job. You’ve got a good job thanks to your union. And who would love to take away your union? It’s those ‘three G’s Republicans.’”

'You can’t buy a gun if you don’t have a job. You’ve got a good job thanks to your union. And who would love to take away your union? It’s those ‘three G’s' Republicans.'Click To Tweet

All they want is your vote – not your company

Based on historic protests in Frankfort last winter and spring over pensions—the most potent political issue I’ve seen in a long time—the social issues sucker play might fall flat this time.

To be sure, demonstrations and rallies are great for firing up faithful. But the most potent protest is the vote.

Meanwhile, brothers and sisters, watch who’s sneering at your behind your back, pointing at you and whispering, “sucker!”

And don’t kid yourself, the Republicans just want your vote, not your company.

They won’t have you over for dinner. They won’t invite you to the country club for a round of golf. Nor will they welcome you aboard their yacht or cabin cruiser for a trip on the Ohio River or Kentucky Lake.

Jim Pence, another old union guy like Sanderson and me, nailed it with the motto of his feisty Hillbilly Report blog: “Never before have so few with so much promised to take away so much from so many, and then laugh their asses off as the so many with so little vote for the so few with so much.”

“Never before have so few with so much promised to take away so much from so many, and then laugh their asses off as the so many with so little vote for the so few with so much.”Click To Tweet

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Berry Craig
Berry Craig of Mayfield is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community College in Paducah and an author of five books on the Civil War in Kentucky. The last one, published by the University Press of Kentucky, is Kentucky’s Rebel Press: Pro-Confederate Media in the Civil War. His critically-acclaimed Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase, also from the University Press, has been reprinted in paperback.