Their "freedom" to attack our unions

Steve Leigh reports from Washington state on a mobilization against union busters.

Workers rally against a union-busting organization in Washington state (Washington Federation of State Employees | Facebook)Workers rally against a union-busting organization in Washington state (Washington Federation of State Employees | Facebook)

HUNDREDS OF union members and supporters picketed a conference of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF) in Bellevue, Washington, on September 29. The EFF is a right-wing organization that opposes unions, minimum-wage laws, spending on education and social programs, and anything else that interferes with corporate profits.

The picket was lively and vocal with participants pointing at the windows of the meeting room and shouting, "Shame! Shame!" and "F...the EFF!" Besides the chanting and singing for two hours, the rally was accompanied by a "billionaire" on stilts in a top hat and suit. Organizers also brought two 25-foot-tall inflatable rats and an inflatable "fat cat" to express their disdain.

Sponsored by Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS), the picket was endorsed by the Martin Luther King County Labor Council and 25 other labor and activist groups. Several unions turned out large contingents, including the Carpenters Union, Laborers International Union, Washington Federation of State Employees, Iron Workers Union, United Electrical Workers, International Association of Machinists and many more.

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THE EFF is the Washington branch of the Freedom Foundation, which also has chapters in Oregon and California. According to Wikipedia, it is affiliated with the State Policy Network--a national group that that functions primarily as an umbrella group for conservative and libertarian think tanks focusing on state-level policy.

The EFF is registered as a charitable organization, but its only charity is the rich--at the expense of poor and working-class people.

One of its main targets is unions, especially public-sector unions. The Freedom Foundation website states, "The Freedom Foundation is working to reverse the stranglehold public-sector unions have on our government. We are fighting to...give government employees a choice to join an employees union or not, and prohibit taxpayer's money from being unwillingly used to influence the political system."

The " stranglehold" that public sector unions supposedly have on the government somehow has not prevented declining real wages, layoffs of government workers, and the erosion of workers' benefits at all levels since the Great Recession.

The attack on government workers has gone hand-in-hand with attacks on private workers as well. Overall unionization in the U.S. has slumped to less than 12 percent. Policies leading to these conditions have been led by both the Republicans and Democrats.

The EFF wants to further these trends by undermining the ability of unions to influence politics. The group is fine, of course, with the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling that makes corporations persons who have free speech rights--but it wants to deny the same to unions.

The EFF also opposes union or agency shop regulations. A union shop requires nonunion employees hired by an employer to join a union and requires employees who receive union representation to pay fees to cover that representation.

Automatic dues checkoff allows unions more power to win gains for workers. Destruction of union shop rules for public employees in Wisconsin and elsewhere has severely weakened the union movement and allowed corporations to further increase profits at the expense of workers' needs.

Besides direct attacks on unions, the EFF also attacks workers in other ways. It opposes minimum-wage laws and is currently engaged in a suit to invalidate a new law imposing a small income tax on the richest residents in Seattle. Showing its openly racist side, it also opposes sanctuary city laws that protect the undocumented.

All this makes sense, coming from a "coalition of anti-union CEOs and white supremacists in three-piece suits, backed by wealthy conservatives such as Donor's Trust, the Walton Family, the Koch Brothers and the John Birch Society," as a leaflet distributed by OWLS said.

Unions and community organizations are fighting back against these attacks by the EFF and other similar organizations. When the EFF had its convention in 2016, 50 opponents picketed outside. This year, over 500 turned out. This tenfold increase comes from better organizing as well as the increased polarization and disgust caused by the Trump administration and its policies.

A speaker from the Carpenters Union noted the irony of the EFF meeting at the Westin Hotel: "It was the construction unions that build this hotel! If it wasn't for us, they wouldn't be here."

"We have been fighting this group for a long time," said Juan Bocanegra of El Comite, an immigrant rights group. "They helped shut down the labor center at Evergreen College. We'll keep fighting them as long as we need to."

The rally ended on a strong note, with participants promising to keep up the fight against the EFF and return to picket their events as long as necessary.