Magazine article The American Prospect

There Goes Hoffa. (Devil in the Details)

Magazine article The American Prospect

There Goes Hoffa. (Devil in the Details)

Article excerpt

SINCE HE FIRST BECAME president, George W. Bush has had two distinct approaches toward America's unions: 1) Divide and conquer, and 2) Smash them into eensy-weensy bits. Bush came to the White House armed with a Texas Republican's hatred of all things union, but what in Texas had merely been an ideological passion (unions in Texas are too small to have temporal consequences) became in Washington a strategic guidepost. For at the level of national politics, unions mattered. Not only did they advocate such time-honored communist ploys as the minimum wage, they were the Democrats' shock troops on election day. (Hell, they were the Democrats' only troops on election day.)

Over at Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman's politics shop in the White House, a concerted effort was hatched soon after Bush took office to win over a small number of big unions--the Teamsters and the Carpenters in particular. In the 1970s and '80s, after all, the Teamos had backed GOP presidential candidates for reasons usually related to avoidance of criminal prosecution, and the building trades, if sufficiently riled at environmentalist Democrats, had been known to look more kindly on Republicans. By calling for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and backing Carpenters' President Doug McCarron against legal challenges from disbanded and disgruntled locals, Rove figured he could woo these unions into Bush's column.

For organized labor generally, however, the Bush administration has pursued a scorched-earth policy. Tax policy has relentlessly favored the rich, ergonomics regulations have been repealed, previously unionized workers reclassified into the new Department of Homeland Security have lost their right to unionize, the administration has announced a goal of privatizing the jobs of hundreds of thousands of other public employees, and even policies specifically sought by the Teamsters and the Carpenters (a ban on Mexican trucks, a guarantee of union wages on Homeland Security construction projects) have been swept aside.

The latest administration stratagem is to drown unions in paperwork: Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao has proposed new regulations requiring local unions to file forms with the Labor Department every time they spend more than $2,000 and national unions every time they spend more than $5,000. …

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