Media conservatives have waged a relentless war against labor unions, blaming them for a wide variety of problems and smearing them as "communists" and "thugs," among other attacks. However, experts have credited unions for establishing many of the "most fundamental and valued features of today's society" and "paving the road to the middle class for many millions of working families."
The blame game: Conservative media try to pin problems on unions
Beck says unions have "raped" police and fire fighters. On the August 4 edition of his radio program, Glenn Beck said of unions: "Look what they've done to the police and firemen. They've raped these guys. Along with politicians. Along with politicians -- raped them. The bravest among us." Beck went on to ask, "What, do you think the politicians are not in bed with the unions?"
Beck blames unions for woes of local governments and industries. On the February 25 edition of The Glenn Beck Program, Beck blamed unions for the financial woes of local governments, the auto industry, airlines, schools, the steel industry, and the textile industry. He continued: "Mr. President, until you get the unions out of this business, I don't think we have anything to talk about."
Carlson blames cost of living in NYC on "union pensions" and "raising taxes" for "schools." On the August 5 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson asserted that the cost of living in New York City, California, and Honolulu is "so expensive" "because of union pensions; because of raising costs for other things; for raising taxes along the way for schools." Carlson concluded: "If you go back in history and look at who incorporated a lot of that, maybe the blame comes right back to the same party. Or maybe it doesn't."
Root: "Unions destroy capitalism and free enterprise." On the May 27, 2009, edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck, guest Wayne Allyn Root stated that a "point we all agree on" is that "unions destroy capitalism and free enterprise." As examples, Root cited the public school system, the auto industry, and the steel industry. Beck pushed back slightly, stating that he's "against unions, but not all unions" and explaining that "the way to success is to be a decent person, treat other people with dignity, give them a good fair living wage because if you're good to your people they're going to make a better product, everybody wins."
Bernard: "[A] lot of labor unions are what holds America back and keeps us from being as good as we can be." On the August 19, 2009, edition of MSNBC's Morning Meeting, Independent Women's Forum CEO Michelle Bernard stated:
The labor unions right now simply exist for one reason: To self-perpetuate, receiving union dues, and having political influence. I think it's absolutely amazing to watch that clip from The Rachel Maddow Show last night where this guy is, he's saying to President Obama, "I'm strong arming you, buddy."
And my answer to this would be they are showing themselves to be as ridiculous as many members of the American public think they are. What happened to pragmatism, what happened to competition, and what actually happened to winning? Maybe it would be great for the Democratic Party to lose the support of labor unions because quite honestly, a lot of labor unions are what holds America back and keeps us from being as good as we can be.
Conservatives smear unions as violent "thugs"
Limbaugh accuses unions of resorting to violence. On the May 18, 2009, broadcast of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh attempted to smear unions as violent, declaring that the Employee Free Choice Act should be titled "The Union Brass Knuckles Busting On Your Knees Act."
Beck warns of "possible super-union" of "out-and-out thugs" that will have "extraordinary power." On the April 14 edition of his radio show, Beck warned listeners of "a possible super-union coming" with "extraordinary power." He added: "And they're thugs. Out-and-out thugs. Not the members, the unions."
Beck says violence is a "self-fulfilling prophecy" of labor unions. During the May 3 edition of his Fox News show, Beck said, "The unions are in bed with Washington and special interests and they are not in your or this nation's best interest anymore. They are following the playbooks from Europe." Beck went on to spell out the "playbooks from Europe," concluding that the process ends with "violence. ... This is a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Beck suggests unions are prone to violence. On the April 12 broadcast of his radio show, suggesting that unions are prone to violence, Beck asked of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: "How long does that guy live? Seriously, how long does that guy survive? He's in New Jersey. He's got to break up the union pensions." Beck further said, "If I do my job and I don't get paid, I'm angry too."
Trace Gallagher: "With the 1930s came ... the labor movement -- organization by way of strikes, votes, violence." During the January 15, 2008, edition of The Fox Report with Shepard Smith, in a segment discussing Michigan history and the issues pertinent to voters there, chief correspondent Trace Gallagher asserted: "With the 1930s came men like Jimmy Hoffa and the labor movement -- organization by way of strikes, votes, violence." However, Gallagher did not mention the positive effects of the 1930s labor movement for workers in Michigan, which included banning "oppressive child labor" and federal laws "which strengthened unions' rights to organize and negotiate with employers."
Beck uses blatant distortions to smear SEIU as violent organization of "thugs." During the November 16, 2009, edition of his Fox News program, Beck fired off a series of attacks to claim that SEIU members are "thugs" who "beat down" opponents and command elected officials. In fact, Beck's claims were nothing more than blatant distortions used to smear the SEIU, its former president Andy Stern, and President Obama. These distortions included: A quote falsely attributed to Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME) that suggested Michaud was "bribe[d]" or "scare[d]" by Obama and SEIU; falsely smearing Stern as a communist because he said, "Workers of the world, unite;" and an absurd claim that "even the Boy Scouts aren't safe from SEIU's thuggery."
Beck pushes Obama "civilian army" conspiracy theory: "The unions are his enforcers." On the April 12 edition of The Glenn Beck Program, Beck told listeners, "People say, 'Oh, Barack Obama's building a civilian defense force -- a civilian army.' He has one. It's called the unions. The unions are his enforcers."
Cavuto tells union spokesman: "You politely do your Tony Soprano thing, albeit in your little sweater vest there." During the January 11 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, Stewart Acuff of the Utility Workers Union of America appeared to discuss union leader opposition to a tax on health care plans backed by President Obama. Cavuto told Acuff: "You politely do your Tony Soprano thing, albeit in your little sweater vest there, 'cause you're such a decent guy, but you're saying 'Mr. President, may I remind you that you are sitting in this room because of us.' Which is a very nice way of saying, 'Tread slowly, big guy.' "
Breitbart fabricates smear that SEIU's Stern is "sending SEIU goons" to "beat up innocent Americans." In November 8, 2009, comments posted on his Twitter account, Andrew Breitbart accused Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern of "sending SEIU goons" to "beat up innocent Americans." In fact, the article to which Breitbart linked offered no evidence to support the claim that Stern was involved in violence at a local SEIU office in Sacramento, and it reported comments from local SEIU leaders that disputed the purported victim's account of the incident.
Beck asserts union "members" don't bother him, just "Leadership & Thugs." In a Twitter post, Beck wrote:
Limbaugh invokes Tony Soprano "with a lead pipe" to describe the EFCA: On the March 10, 2009, broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh said of the Employee Free Choice Act, "After this legislation passes, one day Tony Soprano will walk in with a lead pipe and he will start beating people upside the head to vote to unionize because you cannot vote in private."
Right-wing media attack unions as "freeloaders," "communists," terrorists
Limbaugh says public-sector union employees are "freeloaders" and "leftist, socialist, neo-communist." On the April 22 edition of his radio program, Limbaugh asserted that public-sector union employees are "freeloaders" who "live off taxes." Limbaugh went on to decry these public-sector union employees as "leftist, socialist, neo-communist."
Beck and crew state that labor unions are assumed to be subversive. On the February 12 broadcast of his radio show, while discussing South Carolina's "Subversive Activities Registration Act," Beck asked, "Why are [labor unions] exempt?" Co-host Pat Gray responded: "It's already assumed they are subversive."
Limbaugh says "government union" leaders "essentially are communists." On the March 4 edition of his radio program, Limbaugh said, "The union heads -- the leaders of these unions -- essentially are communists." He added: "I'm talking about government union people. I'm not talking about the UAW and Teamsters -- although they might be. But I'm talking about unions that exist in the federal government."
Kristol: "Thank God most of the workforce isn't unionized." On the October 18, 2009, edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, while defending remarks made by Rush Limbaugh, The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol declared: "Thank God most of the workforce isn't unionized."
Limbaugh: "If you want to clean up the schools, get rid of the unions." On the October 19, 2009, broadcast of his radio show, Limbaugh said, "Until we get rid of the unions, we're not going to have any change in public schools." Limbaugh continued: "If you want to clean up the schools, get rid of the unions."
Beck compares the SEIU to al Qaeda: The leaders get "the youth" to do their dirty work. On the August 2 edition of his radio program, Beck called members of the SEIU "burnout, loser hippies." Beck then compared the SEIU to al Qaeda, saying: "You'll notice that people in al Qaeda, the leaders never blow themselves up. They just get the youth to do it." He went on: "Well here you have SEIU and SDS in bed in California, or I mean in Arizona. Here you have these grand leaders ... that, you know, they did their tour of duty. Now it's the young. And they'll reap all of the benefits."
Dobbs claims that half of Culinary Workers Union "are illegal aliens." On the January 16, 2008, edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs claimed: "[I]n point of fact, as many as half of the [Culinary Workers] union's members are illegal aliens." Near the end of the segment, Dobbs again referred to the "Culinary Workers Union, with just about half of its membership assumed to be illegal aliens." In fact, the Associated Press reported that, according to the Union's then-political director, "about half" of the union's members are "immigrants."
Experts credit unions for many "valued features of today's society," and greatly expanding the middle class
UC Berkeley Professor Shaiken: Labor movement "pav[ed] the road to the middle class for many millions of working families." In a June 2004 report, University of California-Berkeley Professor Harley Shaiken wrote that after World War II, "the labor movement forged the link between economic growth and rising wages," helping improve working conditions for both union workers and nonunion workers. From The High Road to a Competitive Economy: A Labor Law Strategy:
In postwar America the labor movement forged the link between economic growth and rising wages, paving the road to the middle class for many millions of working families. Unions did benefit their members, but union wage and benefit gains coursed their way through the economy aiding those who did not belong as well. The result was a more vibrant economy in which strong consumer-led growth led to a virtuous circle of prosperity and jobs. At the lower end of the pay scale, unions have been particularly critical in winning decent compensation for low-skilled workers who often have had few opportunities and less hope.
Author Philip Dine: "Unions have had a lead role in establishing many of the most fundamental and valued features of today's society." In his 2008 book State of the Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence, journalist and author Philip M. Dine wrote:
Unions have had a lead role in establishing many of the most fundamental and valued features of today's society. The eight-hour workday, five-day workweek, paid vacations, retirement and health-care benefits, safety regulations, bans on sweatshops or child labor, protections against employment discrimination, and other workplace advances now taken for granted were the result of struggles -- invariably protracted, often bloody, and sometimes even deadly -- by workers and their unions.
Labor has also played an integral part in the expansion of the middle class, a phenomenon that helped define America and that has been key to assuring its political and social stability.
Nobel laureate Krugman links "strong union movement" to "strong middle class. In a December 2007 New York Times column, Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote that America's "strong middle class" and "strong union movement" were "connected":
Once upon a time, back when America had a strong middle class, it also had a strong union movement.
These two facts were connected. Unions negotiated good wages and benefits for their workers, gains that often ended up being matched even by nonunion employers. They also provided an important counterbalance to the political influence of corporations and the economic elite.