Concord, NH—Gearing up for their January 21 primary in the notoriously anti-union state of South Carolina, Republican presidential candidates have recently begun demonizing organized labor. On the campaign trail in more liberal New Hampshire, which votes Tuesday, these same candidates often avoid any mention mention of the subject.
Last week when President Obama made some long overdue appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the GOP outrage machine went into overdrive. Newt Gingrich immediately blasted out a statement saying, “The answer to an imperial president is a Congress which stands on its own rights. And the correct response to what the president just did would be for the Congress to zero out and refuse to fund the National Labor Relations Board.” The same day Mitt Romney released a commercial picturing him talking to a gaggle of white guys on a factory floor. “The National Labor Relations Board, now stacked with union stooges appointed by the president, says to a free enterprise like Boeing ‘you can’t build a factory in South Carolina because South Carolina is a ‘right to work’ state. That is simply un-American. It’s political payback of the worst kind.” This is a false representation of the NLRB’s decision in the Boeing case. The NLRB never said that Boeing can’t build factories in states with the anti-union laws called ‘right to work’ on their books. What it said was that Boeing cannot retaliate against unionized workers in another state exercising their right to bargain collectively by closing their plant and moving to one where the law favors management over unions.
Obama’s appointments are also being misrepresented. The Republican Senate minority was blocking Obama’s appointments to the NLRB, not because they were unqualified but simply to deny the NLRB a quorum. Without enough members, it could not do its job. This kind of obstructionist behavior is being replicated by Senate Republicans across hundreds of appointments, most notably for the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In order to block recess appointments, which the president uses to keep the government running when necessary, Republicans have been pretending never to go on recess, when in fact they have been on vacation for weeks. So Obama finally appointed Richard Cordray to run the CFPB along with the NLRB positions because he had no other choice.
Meanwhile, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s opponents and fiscally conservative critics are attacking him for an obscure vote fifteen years ago. Santorum, who very occasionally deviated from Republican orthodoxy to support workers in the manufacturing sector, voted against the National Right to Work Act of 1995. That bill would have outlawed closed-shop union workplaces, as state-level right to work laws do. Ron Paul has been relentlessly attacking Santorum for that vote, and the Club for Growth is siding with Paul. (For a complete guide to the Republican attack on labor in its full context, read this excellent piece by my colleague John Nichols.)
Ironically, the best argument for unionism is now being made by a Republican candidate and his affiliated Super PAC, albeit unintentionally. Gingrich has been criticizing Romney for having laid off workers at the companies purchased by Bain Capital, Romney’s former private equity firm. Now Winning Our Future, a Super PAC that supports Gingrich produced a “documentary” that shows how Romney, a vastly wealthy man, caused suffering to further enrich himself. That, of course, is one the many things unions are set up to combat. The trailer for “When Mitt Romney Came to Town,” which you can view here, dubs him “more ruthless than Wall Street.” If Romney is the Republican nominee you’ll see a lot more videos like this one, but they’ll be coming from labor and pro-labor Democrats, not Republicans who want to zero out funding for enforcement of labor laws.