Scott Walker: Radical chic

The historically conservative platform takes a page out of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's union-busting playbook

Published August 29, 2012 4:22PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Mike Segar)
(Reuters/Mike Segar)

On Tuesday, Republican delegates approved a platform The Washington Times had called the most conservative in party history. “It’s an indictment, it’s a blueprint, and it’s a declaration of values,” Virginia Governor and Platform Committee Chair Bob McDonnell told the assembled delegates. It’s also a full-on embrace of the same anti-union agenda that helped earn Scott Walker and Nikki Haley their Tuesday night speaking slots. The new platform reflects a Republican Party even more hostile to organized labor than the one that nominated John McCain four years ago.

Perhaps the most dramatic shift in the platform’s language is on “Right to Work,” legislation that makes it illegal for unions and companies to sign contracts requiring that everyone represented by a union help pay the costs of negotiating and enforcing contracts. Twenty-three states have passed such laws, effectively making it harder for unions to maintain and grow their strength, and easier for companies to pick on union supporters, or suspend union recognition entirely.

The 2008 platform affirmed “the right of states to enact Right-to-Work laws” in the same breath as the right of workers to bargain collectively. In contrast, the 2012 version “encourage[s]” states to pass such laws, and endorses “the enactment of a National Right-to-Work law to promote worker freedom and to promote greater economic liberty.” In January, Romney told a debate audience, “Right to Work legislation makes a lot of sense for New Hampshire and for the nation.”

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels cemented his conservative rock star role by signing a “Right to Work” law in February. But in a sign of its lightning rod status, some of the GOP’s most prominent anti-union swing state Governors, including Michigan’s Rick Snyder and Wisconsin’s (then pre-recall) Scott Walker, have claimed not to want “Right to Work” fights in their states.

The new platform also takes a more hostile stance towards construction unions, demanding “an end to the Project Labor Agreements” and “repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act.” Both PLAs and Davis-Bacon establish wage standards for construction projects, making it easier for contractors that use union labor to compete with cheaper non-union contractors for work (Davis-Bacon covers federal contracts; PLAs are project-specific agreements). That’s not all they have in common: Both have drawn support from dozens of current House Republicans, stymieing legislative attacks. Among those who’ve voted to defend Davis-Bacon in the past? Paul Ryan, whose family runs its construction company with union labor. While the new platform calls for abolishing PLAs and Davis-Bacon, neither was mentioned in the 2008 document.

The new platform is at least as antagonistic towards public sector unions, a favorite punching bag of the modern GOP. It salutes state politicians who “saved their States from fiscal disaster by reforming their laws governing public employee unions” (read: stripping workers’ rights to negotiate). If you’re an elected official, the Republican Party urges you “to follow their lead,” lest your state face “the collapse of services to the public.”

Like the one approved in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the new Tampa platform calls for legislation to make it harder for public unions to raise and spend money for politics. But this year’s also declares, “To safeguard the free choice of public employees, no government at any level should act as the dues collector for unions.” That sentence seems to endorse denying state, municipal, or federal workers the option to have union dues deducted automatically from their paychecks, creating a new logistical hurdle for public union members and staff.

Of course, if the GOP gets its way, there won’t be as many federal workers around to complain. The ’08 platform heralded an expected wave of federal worker retirements as “a chance to gradually shrink the size of government” while making it more effective. In case that was too subtle, this year’s platform calls for the federal payroll to be reduced by at least 10 per cent, because Americans “work too hard and too long to support a bloated government.” (The Tea Party organization FreedomWorks boasts that that 11 of its 12 proposed “Freedom Platform” planks were effectively incorporated into the document, including “Reduce the Bloated Federal Workforce.”) For good measure, the GOP now promises to crack down on federal employees’ student loan debt too.

The biggest cuts to union jobs could come at the Postal Service, which this month suffered a historic default. Rather than repealing the unprecedented pre-funding mandate that accounts for most of the postal deficit, the 2012 platform calls for “dramatic restructuring,” preparation for “downsizing,” and exploration of “a greater role for private enterprise in appropriate aspects of the mail-processing system.” Postal privatization, which did not appear in the 2008 platform, could present a windfall for politically powerful companies like FedEx.

The platform approved Tuesday also pledges to “reign in” Obama’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to reverse his National Labor Relations Board’s modest moves to strengthen organizing rights, and to remain steadfast in opposing the Employee Free Choice Act.

Like the platform at McCain’s convention, this year’s supports school vouchers, which channel tax dollars to generally non-union private schools, and workplace immigration raids, which have been manipulated by employers to retaliate for organizing.

But this year’s platform team made cuts as well as additions. That 2008 language paying lip service to “the right of individuals to voluntarily participate in labor organizations and bargain collectively”? It’s nowhere to be found.

By Josh Eidelson

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