“The Church Of Organized Labor”: Scott Walker’s Evangelical Faith And Union-Busting Do Not Go Hand In Hand
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is better known for his union-busting prowess than his evangelical faith, but in recent months he’s been talking more openly about the latter. And for good reason: his bid for the Republican presidential nomination may well rise or fall on whether he can persuade his fellow believers to rally behind him rather than, say, Mike Huckabee. Walker has fashioned a religiously resonant brand (“Our American Revival”) for his free-market gospel, and the early polls from Iowa suggest evangelicals buy it.
But if history is any indication, evangelicals’ faith could complicate Walker’s anti-labor stance. For as much as Walker sings the praises of neoliberalism, evangelicalism has often resonated with the conviction enshrined in the old Wobblie hymn: There is power in a union.
Evangelicals played pivotal roles in launching the American labor movement. Andrew Cameron—a Scottish immigrant, accomplished printer, and devout believer—helped to found the National Labor Union in 1866. The longtime Chicagoan went on to become internationally known for his advocacy on behalf of the (then controversial) eight-hour workday. For Cameron, organized labor was more than just compatible with Christianity; it was a fundamentally Christian response to Gilded Age capitalism, which, whatever the free market boosters said, was patently unfair. As he put it in an 1867 edition of the Workingman’s Advocate, his nationally-circulated labor paper, “Poverty exists because those who sow do not reap; because the toiler does not receive a just and equitable proportion of the wealth which he produces.” Cameron—who constantly quoted the Bible and never missed a chance to point out that Jesus had been a workingman—went to his grave believing that “the Gospel of Christ sustains us in our every demand.” He was hardly alone. Industrializing Chicago was a hub for pro-union Christianity.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, evangelicals such as James W. Kline held major leadership positions in the American Federation of Labor and its member unions. In 1911 Kline, then president of the International Brotherhood of Blacksmiths, traveled to San Francisco and was in the midst of heated strike negotiations when he received a telegram from his Bible class back home. It read in part, “God bless you in your efforts to do that for which the Master came.”
Throughout the Great Depression evangelicals, like many other Americans, poured into labor’s swelling ranks. Matthew Pehl has shown that, in Detroit, a number of African American religious leaders successfully persuaded their flocks to give organized labor—with its long history of racially exclusionary practices—another chance. Such breakthroughs keyed the United Automobile Workers’ campaign to turn Motor City into a union town. Meanwhile, in and around the Missouri Bootheel, Pentecostal-Holiness revivals propelled white and black sharecroppers alike into the ranks of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU). In his book Spirit of Rebellion, Jarod Roll points out that STFU locals often opened their meetings with prayers, hymns, and bible readings. Little wonder that one Arkansas farmer later recalled, “When they first started talking about the union I thought it was a new church.”
To be sure, this is not the whole story. Important books by Darren Dochuk, Bethany Moreton, and Kevin Kruse underscore that during these same New Deal years and on into the Cold War, corporate executives worked with leading evangelicals to baptize free enterprise as the best way forward for “Christian America.” But their success was never complete. In a deeply researched new study, Ken and Elizabeth Fones-Wolf show that even in the deeply conservative postwar South, the moral status of organized labor remained a live question. A number of believers insisted, in the words of one protest banner, “Religion & Unionism Go Hand In Hand.”
They still do, even among some present-day evangelicals—including members of Walker’s own nondenominational congregation. Meadowbrook Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, will not be mistaken for the crusading Moral Majority of old. Its leaders may share some of the same conservative views, but they typically steer clear of direct political engagement. This commitment to quietism was sorely tested starting in 2011, however, when Walker’s assault on public unions stirred up dissension within the congregation. In the wake of their governor and brother in Christ signing the now-notorious Act 10 into law, some at Meadowbrook were infuriated, others elated. People on both sides of the issue called for their senior pastor, John Mackett, to weigh in, which he declined to do. Some left the church, but the trouble did not so easily subside. The fact that, as late as 2013, Mackett was still calling for his members to end the “turmoil” and “slander” and “name calling” suggests that pro-union sentiment at Meadowbrook was strong and persistent.
So don’t be fooled. Especially if the Walker campaign’s bid to consolidate support among religious conservatives succeeds, it may start to seem like evangelicalism and anti-labor are of a piece. The reality is that while union-busting may be the reigning GOP orthodoxy, it is far from settled gospel truth.
By: Heath W. Carter, Assistant Professor of History at Valparaiso University; The New Republic, July 12, 2015
Just a month ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was asked how he’d confront terrorist threats as president. The Republican governor quickly turned to his political fights against union members in his home state. “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” Walker said.
The governor took some heat for seemingly comparing union members to ISIS, which missed the point, and wasn’t even true. What mattered about the response is that, in Walker’s mind, union-busting in Wisconsin was preparation for combating ISIS and global terrorism.
The ridiculousness of the governor’s answer raised concerns among powerful Republican players – if this is his response to an obvious question in the midst of crises abroad, Walker may not have a mature understanding of what international leadership requires.
His answer to a similar question this week won’t help matters. The Capital Times in Madison reports today:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who achieved the rank of Eagle Scout as a teen, has taken that motto seriously. His Eagle Scout status has him so prepared, he indicated this week, he’s ready to serve as commander in chief of the U.S. military.
The issue came up at a Chamber of Commerce event in Arizona this week, where Hugh Hewitt asked the governor, “Does the prospect of being commander in chief daunt you? Because the world that you describe when you’re talking about safety is going to require a commitment to American men and women abroad, obviously at some point. How do you think about that?”
Walker replied, “That’s an appropriate question.” And things went downhill from there.
The video is online here, and I’d encourage folks to check it out to fully appreciate the tone and context, but asked about the challenge of the presidency and national security, Walker didn’t talk about union-busting, but he did draw a parallel between the responsibilities of the Commander in Chief and being an Eagle Scout. From the Capital Times report:
“As a kid, I was in Scouts. And one of the things I’m proudest of when I was in Scouts is I earned the rank of Eagle,” Walker said. “Being an Eagle Scout is one of the few things you get as a kid that, you are not the past, it’s something you are.”
The governor said whenever he attends an Eagle Scout ceremony, he tells the young man being honored that he’s not there to congratulate him, but to issue a charge – that once a Scout obtains the Eagle ranking, he is responsible for living up to that calling for the rest of his life.
He then drew from his Eagle Scout experience discussing his military philosophy. “America is an exceptional country,” Walker said. “And I think, unfortunately, sometimes there are many in Washington who think those of us who believe we are exceptional means we are superior, that we’re better than others in the world.
“And to me, much like my thought process of being an Eagle Scout is, no, being an exceptional country means we have a higher responsibility … not just to care for ourselves and our own interests, but to lead in the world, to ensure that all freedom-loving people have the capacity, who yearn for that freedom, to have that freedom.”
On a structural level, governors running for president have built-in advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, they’ve (hopefully) demonstrated an ability to competently oversee an executive branch, which should be excellent preparation for the White House. On the other hand, governors generally have very little experience with federal, international, and military policymaking, which can be a disadvantage.
This isn’t unique to Walker or anyone else; it’s just the nature of the office and its duties. It’s up to governors, in general, to make the case that their state-based leadership and good judgment prepares them for national office. The public has frequently been receptive to the message – of the six most recent U.S. presidents, four have been governors (two Democrats, two Republicans).
None of them ever suggested union-busting and the Boy Scouts were preparation for the White House.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 27, 2015
NPR Morning Edition aired a report this week that reeked of anti-union bias, and inadvertently promoted the Koch brothers’ agenda to reduce collective bargaining rights, which means smaller wages and benefits.
The report was rife with errors, missing facts, bollixed concepts, and a meaningless comparison used to impeach a union source.
Below I’ll detail the serious problems with reports by Lisa Autry of WKU Public Radio in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but first you should know why this matters to you no matter where you live.
A serious, very well-funded, and thoroughly documented movement to pay workers less and reduce their rights, while increasing the rights of employers, is gaining traction as more states pass laws that harm workers. A host of proposals in Congress would compound this if passed and signed into law.
News organizations help this anti-worker movement, even if they do not mean to, when they get facts wrong, lack balance, provide vagaries instead of telling details, and fail to apply time-tested reporting practices to separate fact from advocacy.
The advocates are sophisticated. They pose as “nonprofit research organizations,” but are better described as ideological marketing agencies.
There’s nothing wrong with marketing ideology, only with not being honest about what you are doing.
These tax-exempt outfits operate on the model of Madison Avenue; reinforcing instincts, hopes, and desire to stir demand for what may not be good for you or be of dubious effectiveness.
Carefully read, their reports are mostly assertions with a sprinkling of cherry-picked facts and projections, which I have found, reviewing them years later, turned out to be wrong.
Midwestern and southern states have been enacting anti-worker laws that take away collective bargaining rights, while forcing unions to represent people who do not share in the costs of collective bargaining and protecting workers in grievance proceedings. Other laws directly reduce compensation, especially pensions, although police and firefighters are generally shielded.
A key part of this strategy is creating the impression that unions are bad for workers. This goes to a problem that Presidents John Adams and James Madison feared would destroy the nation – the rise of a “business aristocracy” that would trick people whose only income was from wages into supporting policies that would be good for the business aristocrats, but bad for workers.
The NPR report was about Kentucky counties that are passing so-called “right to work” laws, a worthy topic for sure.
Early on, reporter Lisa Autry makes this untrue statement: “Democrats have rejected efforts to allow employees in unionized companies the freedom to choose whether to join a union.”
No law requires workers to join a union under a binding U.S. Supreme Court decision. Congress outlawed the “closed shop” in the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, formally known as the Labor Management Relations Act.
Workers at firms with union contracts are only required to pay dues that cover the costs of representing them in negotiating contracts and grievance procedures.
Russell D. Lewis, the NPR Southern bureau chief who edited Autry’s report, told me he was only vaguely aware of the Taft-Hartley Act and did not recognize her error.
From an economic perspective, what so-called “right to work” laws do is allow workers to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining and contract enforcement without sharing in the costs. This is a form of moral hazard that weakens unions and makes it likely that they will fail because of what economists call the free rider problem: Those who do not share in the costs of negotiating contracts and enforcing them enjoy the same benefits and protections as those who do.
Autry’s NPR report failed to mention a central fact – Kentucky’s highest court ruled in 1965 that cities and counties cannot adopt local collective bargaining laws. In a case that unions brought against Jesse Puckett, mayor of Shelbyville, Kentucky’s highest court ruled (emphasis added):
it is not reasonable to believe that Congress could have intended to [leave to local governments] the determination of policy in such a controversial area as that of union-security agreements. We believe Congress was willing to permit varying policies at the state level, but could not have intended to allow as many local policies as there are local political subdivisions in the nation. It is our conclusion that Congress has pre-empted from cities the field undertaken to be entered by the Shelbyville ordinance.
In reports for her local NPR station, Autry never cited this. She did, however, a report on a politician who told her that equal numbers of people believe a county-level ordinance would be legal or illegal. In another report, on whether counties have the legal authority to pass such laws, she said, “the answer depends on who you ask.”
It took me less than a minute using an Internet search engine to find the 1965 case. It was also cited in a nuanced and balanced January news report in the Louisville Courier-Journal. Even cub reporter Gina Clear of the News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown, KY provided coverage that was balanced and far better informed than Autry’s.
Did Autry fail to report the court decision because of laziness, poor judgment, or anti-union bias? I cannot give you a definitive answer because Autry and Kevin Willis, WKU’s news director, ignored my repeated requests for an interview, passing the buck to Lewis.
Strange, journalists who expect people to return their calls but do not hold themselves to that standard.
My review of several dozen Autry pieces suggests a bias against unions and workers.
She frequently does one-sided reports using language that assumes only anti-union policies have merit, and quotes only anti-union sources. She also did a one-sided report against increasing the minimum wage.
Lewis, the NPR editor, noted that Autry quoted a United Auto Workers local official saying that Alabama and Mississippi, both with so-called “right to work” laws, have “some of the worst education, highest poverty. What happens is that as they reduce the union labor, less and less [sic] people are making a decent wage.”
But Autry followed that quote with a bizarre point to impeach the union official’s remarks: “Actually, since World War II, income and job growth have increased faster in right-to-work states.”
That might be relevant to a story about how Jim Crow laws kept, and still keep, blacks from many well-paying jobs. Or in a story about how taxpayer investments, especially in the Interstate Highways, canals, and electricity, opened the South to building factories after the war.
Autry cited no source. Lewis sent me a report by the Mackinac Center, another libertarian marketing agency. It is much more nuanced than Autry’s flat statement.
And actually, to invoke Autry’s word, what would be relevant would be current data on household incomes in states with and without laws requiring workers to pay for the benefits they get from any union that represents them.
In 2013 the median household income (half make more, half less) was $49,087 in so-called “right to work” states, but $56,746 in other states. That means in the states with diminished worker rights people have to work a full year plus eight weeks to get what their peers earn in a year.
Autry’s piece and Lewis’s editing seem to violate NPR’s ethics handbook, which says “good editors are also good prosecutors. They test, probe and challenge reporters, always with the goal of making NPR’s stories as good (and therefore as accurate) as possible.”
The handbook also says “attribute everything… When in doubt, err on the side of attributing — that is, make it very clear where we’ve gotten our information (or where the organization we give credit to has gotten its information). Every NPR reporter and editor should be able to immediately identify the source of any facts in our stories — and why we consider them credible. And every reader or listener should know where we got our information.”
In her NPR piece and a number of WKU reports, Autry quotes the Bluegrass Institute, which she describes as “a Kentucky-based think tank that advocates for smaller government.”
With just two employees, it doesn’t have much capacity to think.
What Autry neglected to report was that the Bluegrass Institute is an ad agency for Kochian ideas. It is also part of a network that is funded by corporate interests closely allied with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which poses as a nonpartisan advocate for smaller government and more federalism, but is funded by corporations opposed to unions, the Koch Brothers, and their confreres. While the network says its members are independent, behind closed doors it operates like an ideological Ikea selling libertarian ideas, The New Yorker magazine reported.
Editor Lewis told me he had no idea about the Bluegrass Institute’s connections.
Lewis also indicated he was not troubled by using the term “right to work,” which is both factually inaccurate and politically loaded. Based on the evidence I call them right-to-work-for-less laws. NPR surely should explain to listeners that an abundance of official data (and economic theory) show that union workers make more than their non-union counterparts.
Autry ended her NPR piece with another falsehood: “Meanwhile, several labor unions — including some from out of state — have filed a federal lawsuit to stop Kentucky’s local right-to-work movement.”
All of the unions represent workers in the county where the lawsuit was filed, a fact anyone who read the lawsuit should know. Irwin “Buddy” Cutler, the lawyer who filed the case, noted that to have standing – the right to sue – the union would have to represent workers in the county where the dispute exists.
Lewis said he did not know that, which explains his failure to ask what strikes me as an obvious question. Beyond that, what purpose did ending on this (false) point serve?
NPR owes listeners a corrective. It also needs to balance its reports and use relevant data. More importantly, all news organizations need to be wary of “think tanks” bearing easy information.
By: David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, March 21, 2015
“ALEC Cookie Cutter Legislation”: Wisconsin Anti-Union Bill Is ‘Word For Word’ From Rightwing Lobbyist Group
Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin who is considering a Republican presidential run, has promised to sign into law an anti-union bill targeted at the state’s private sector workers that is an almost verbatim copy of model legislation devised by an ultra-rightwing network of corporate lobbyists.
On Friday, Walker dropped his earlier opposition to a so-called “right to work” bill, which he had described as a “distraction”, signalling that he would sign it into law should it succeed in passing the Wisconsin legislature. Republican members are rushing through the provision, which would strip private sector unions of much of their fee-collecting and bargaining powers.
On Monday, the bill cleared a committee of the state senate. A vote of the full chamber is slated for later this week, and of the assembly early next month.
The resumption of union battles in Walker’s home state comes at an awkward time for the probable 2016 candidate, as he seeks to shift attention away from Wisconsin and towards a national political platform. On Thursday he will speak at the high-profile Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, where he will seek to press home his recent meteoric rise from a relatively obscure midwest executive to a leading contender among top Republicans.
It has now been disclosed that the Wisconsin 2015 right to work bill is a virtual carbon copy of a model bill framed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec). The council acts as a form of dating agency between major US corporations and state-level Republican lawmakers, bringing them together to frame new legislation favorable to big business interests.
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which monitors the activities of Alec, has compared the Alec model bill and the new Wisconsin proposal and found them to be nearly identical.
“This bill is word for word from the Alec playbook, and that’s no surprise as the Wisconsin legislature is dominated by Alec members,” said the CMD’s general counsel, Brendan Fischer.
Walker too has close ties to Alec. He actively supported several Alec bills between 1993 and 2002, when he was a member of the Wisconsin assembly. On Sunday Alec posted to its Twitter feed a photograph of Walker with the Alec chief executive, Lisa Nelson, in which she said: “Great to be with Alec alumni @ScottWalker”.
The governor is no stranger to fighting unions. His current ascendancy is in part due to the national name recognition he gained when taking on public sector unions at the start of his first term in office, leading to headline-grabbling mass demonstrations.
To some extent, a renewal of such battles could play to his favour among the hardcore of rightwing Republicans who tend to determine the outcome of the party’s primary elections. On the other hand, any suggestion that Walker gave his backing to cookie-cutter legislation devised by a corporate lobbying group could hand the Democratic party valuable ammunition should Walker win the nomination and go on to face a general election.
He has already provided his opponents with considerable material for potential attack ads. In a recent trip to London to burnish his foreign policy credentials, he dodged a question about whether he believed in evolution. In December he got his “Mazel tovs” confused when he signed a letter to a Jewish constituent: “Thank you again and Molotov.”
The brewing union confrontation comes as Walker is increasing the pace of his exploratory activities around a 2016 campaign. The son of a preacher, he has been wooing evangelical Christian conservatives who are a key constituency in the opening caucuses of the presidential election in Iowa.
He has also stepped up meetings with prominent Republican donors.
The Wisconsin right to work bill is just one part of a nationwide push by Alec to undermine union power and rein in minimum wage levels. Twenty-four states currently have right to work laws and a rash of state legislatures are taking up the issue, partly under Alec’s encouragement.
By: Ed Pilkington, The Guardian, February 23, 2015
On Tuesday evening, a Republican committee chairman in the Wisconsin state senate, Stephen Nass, cut short a hearing on an anti-union bill, citing a “credible threat” that union members were about to disrupt the proceedings.
Credible threat? That’s the phrase used in terrorist warnings. But the only union members in Madison were the estimated 1,800 to 2,000 workers, many of them wearing hard hats and heavy coats, who’d gathered peacefully in and around the Capitol during the day to oppose the bill. They believe it’s an attack on working families designed to weaken organized labor – which it is.
So who was credibly threatening whom?
The Service Employees International Union, which represents low-wage service workers, had planned to protest the committee’s scheduled hard stop of testimony at 7 p.m., because the cut-off was too early to accommodate everyone who wanted to be heard. To avoid that, all the committee chairman had to do was extend the hearing. Instead, by ending it abruptly, dozens of people who had been waiting all day for the chance to speak were deprived of that opportunity – even as the Republican majority on the committee hastily voted to send the bill to the full Senate.
Not surprisingly, when the meeting ended early those who had been waiting erupted in anger and indignation, shouting profanities and “shame,” according to the A.P., and creating so much noise that the roll call vote could not be heard. The result — 3 Republicans in favor, 1 Democrat against and 1 Democrat who didn’t vote because he wanted more debate — was announced later. For someone so concerned about avoiding a disruption, Mr. Nass didn’t seem too concerned about causing one.
Mr. Nass later said he didn’t want protestors to disrupt the meeting the way they did hearings on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s measure in 2011 to strip public unions of collective bargaining rights. Leaving aside the fact that those rallies lasted for weeks and drew up to 100,000, Mr. Nass said the protestors were trying to “take over the process of representing all of the people of this great state.”
Where does one start to unpack that? The protestors are the people of the great state. The bill in question threatens their pay, their jobs and their values. They were trying to participate in the process. Democracy, anyone?
By: Teresa Tritch, Taking Note, Editorial Page Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, February 25, 2015