Joe Kenehan Center

Thursday, April 03, 2003
The Sad Spectacle of Linda Chavez
Linda Chavez, the neoconservatives’ token Latina and would-be Secretary of Labor, has resurfaced at the helm of Stop Union Political Abuse, an obscure anti-union group staffed by earnest young Christian rightists.

The group’s centerpiece ideological manifesto is an anti-union diatribe Chavez delivered a while back in a speech at the Heritage Foundation.

Chavez’ speech is worth reading only because it’s a stark example of a peculiarly bizarre interpretation of the history of American labor movement that has somehow become near dogma among neoconservatives.

According to Chavez (and many of her friends—Peggy Noonan wrote a similar piece not long ago, and Max Green wrote an atrocious book-length version of this same argument), American unions didn’t entangle themselves with politics for most of their history and were only dragged into the orbit of the Democratic Party when hippies and New Leftists supposedly started to take them over in the early 1970s.

Chavez and her friends seem to believe that the Republican Party and American business didn’t really bother oppose the union movement before 1972 and were only forced to get tough on the unions because a bunch of pinkos took control of the AFL-CIO. It’s a rehash of Reagan’s “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me” foolishness.

Of course, Chavez’ interpretation of the history of American unions is so colossally inaccurate it’s almost ahistorical. Somehow she ignores the 1930s, the New Deal, the CIO, and gigantic influence within the Democratic Party of labor-leftists like Sidney Hillman, Walter Reuther, and Phillip Murray.

Republicans in 1946 certainly would’ve been startled to learn that unions were strangers to politics before 1970. In the off-year elections in '46, the GOP made unions a central issue in their successful campaign to win back control of Congress and halt the New Deal once and for all.

It’s a little sad. I think the neoconservatives who left the labor movement can’t bring themselves to believe that they’ve joined forces with the anti-democratic economic elitists who their parents and grandparents bravely fought against to build the union movement in the first place. So they desperately try to convince themselves that they didn’t lose faith. Therefore, they claim that either need for the unions has disappeared (never mind if Enrons and HealthSouths still happen now and then) or that the unions switched sides in politics, not them.

What's Wrong With Wal-Mart
Worth reading: an executive with a medium-sized grocery chain in the Pacific Northwest makes one of the better arguments I've ever seen about how Wal-Mart shortchanges communities.