The Attack on Working People & Organized Labor

About Chip Berlet

It became clear in 2011 that there was a broad attack on working people, especially those in unions.

Anti-labor campaigns by corporate interests are nothing new, and are frequently masked by rhetoric about freedom of choice for employees. The main framing of these anti-labor campaigns is built around the idea of a “Right to Work.” Corporate CEOs and wealthy “free market” economists portray themselves as friends of the working man and woman. Like most Big Lie campaigns, the truth emerges when history and outcome are compared to current rhetoric and promises.

In 2008 corporate and conservative strategists were developing a series of fake grassroots groups under the banner of the new “Tea Party” rebellion. To the surprise of many, this astroturfing idea developed into an actual series of grassroots movements. Legitimate anger at unfair government policies and gridlock in Washington, DC was shifted toward calls to cut the budget, reduce taxes, and shred the social safety net. Many in the Tea Party Movement, according to polling and academic studies, also oppose racial and gender justice and stigmatize new immigrants of color.

Starting in the 1890s, and gaining speed in the 1930s, anti-union groups have used hysterical red-baiting rhetoric and fear of “totalitarian” collective action to tar unions as anti-American and anti-free enterprise. Today, some of these same players are trying to undermine government laws and regulations that protect a worker’s right to organize a union without harassment or termination.

Over the past 20 years, corporate conservatives and economic libertarians have spent more that $170 million trying to convince us that labor unions are bad for America. During the same period over $1 billion was spent on shifting public debates on social, political, and economic issues to favor narrow right-wing agendas that benefit the few at the expense of the many.

The Tea Parties and allied political and social movements are skillful at framing debates and developing storylines (narratives) that favor their point of view and policy agendas. Specifically, they are using the historic frame of right-wing populist movements, which includes denouncing opponents as incompetent or evil; spreading lurid conspiracy theories about subversive plots, and scapegoating named targets as on the verge of collapsing the society.


What is Behind These Attacks?

What About the Tea Party Movement?

Chip Berlet is a former senior analyst at Political Research Associates. He authored Eyes Right! and Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (with Matthew N. Lyons) and is a frequent contributor to Talk2Action and Huffington Post.