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Right-Wing Think Tanks Target Unions
Right-Wing Think Tanks Target Unions




Big Bucks Bankroll Right-Wing Attacks


Whether it's the Cato Institute's "epidemic of union-related violence" ... or the Heritage Foundation's "not all forms of child labor are exploitive or cruel" ... or the American Enterprise Institute's "Was the New Deal Constitutional?" ... or the Employment Policy Foundation's goal of "helping companies deal with external influences" ... there's one thing right wing think tanks have in common: the goal of demolishing anything that gets in the way of big business and bigger profits. Unions, of course, are a primary target of these right-wing think-tanks and their big-bankroll supporters ...

Pittsburgh billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who contributes heavily to anti-union causes, is closely connected to investigations of President Clinton and to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. Scaife controls three foundations which give millions of dollars to right-wing think tanks; Scaife is vice president of the Heritage Foundation, which opposes the minimum wage and laws limiting the use of strikebreakers.


Workers who dare to strike in the late 1990s face the threat of permanent replacements, a threat often backed up by private security armies, not to mention the economic might that gives companies seemingly unlimited ability to resist strikers’ demands.

In the minds of some bosses, that makes this the right time to further cripple the labor movement — with legislation that would subject picket-line activity to federal prosecution, for example.

And so the "Freedom from Union Violence Act," all but forgotten since introduced last year by Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Strom Thurmond, received a valuable boost last month from the Cato Institute with a 37-page research paper and a press release barrage alleging an "epidemic" of union-related violence.

Cato is one of several think tanks providing corporate America and its political allies with research, "expert" testimonials, and most importantly, ideological direction. In a city thick with think tanks, these Washington-based outfits stand out for the seriousness of their opposition to union goals.

Founded in 1977 by industrialist Charles Koch and financial analyst Edward Crane, the Cato Institute presently boasts a full-time staff of 35, more than 60 adjunct scholars and a $4.5 million annual budget. Cato’s board of directors brings together heads of a variety of companies, from Holiday Health Spas to Tamko Asphalt Products. The heavyweights, though, are billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, president and CEO of The News Corp. Ltd., and Frederick W. Smith, chairman and CEO of Federal Express Corp.


Cato believes the market should be "free" from the pesky interference of unions or government. Cato’s interest in "individual liberty" goes only as far as corporate interests: individuals are "free" to contend by themselves with big business, big banks and "market forces."

Cato publications offer high-sounding arguments against the minimum-wage law and plant-closing legislation, equal pay for jobs of comparable worth, affirmative action and environmental regulations. Cato blames the government, not insurance or drug company, hospital or doctor greed for the health-care crisis.

The think tank criticized the report issued in December 1994 by the Commission of the Future of Worker-Management Relations (chaired by former Labor Sec. John Dunlop) for an "inappropriate focus on the organized labor sector." Cato rejected any proposals for labor law reform that would allow unions to survive and grow. In Cato’s view, private-sector unions face an inevitable demise, which would be hastened by legalization of employee participation committees. Not surprisingly, the institute favors enactment of the Teamwork for Employees and Management (TEAM) Act, which would legalize company unions posing as employee committees.

Cato extols the MSA (medical safety account) scam and destabilization of public schools through "choice." But the institute’s pet project is privatization of Social Security.


The first issue of the institute’s publication, Policy Report, in 1979 argued for privatization of Social Security. Cato followed this the next year with a 500-page attack on our old-age and disability insurance system. In 1995, the institute launched the Cato Project on Social Security Privatization, co-chaired by Josι Piρera, the man responsible for privatizing Chile’s pension system while his country was under a ruthless military dictatorship.

(In one document, a Cato researcher admitted the real "problem" with Social Security: "It has the power to crowd out private capital accumulation." In other words, it’s not being used to make the rich richer. Privatizing Social Security, said Martin Feldstein, is the elite’s "$10 trillion opportunity.")

Cato has targeted union members for special recruitment to the anti-Social Security cause; so has another inside-the-Beltway biggie: The Heritage Foundation.


The Heritage Foundation is where right-wing bosses get a noticeably big bang for their big bucks. This influential think tank, with important ties to the Republican majority in Congress, promotes an aggressively anti-labor agenda. At its website the Heritage Foundation has its own "Labor Home Page" which extols the TEAM Act, the misnamed "Payroll Protection" Act, so-called OSHA "Reform" and repeal of overtime protections.

According to Heritage, workers are "demanding" more workplace flexibility, while "employers are straining under unnecessarily burdensome regulations... Reform of America’s labor laws is long overdue."

This think tank uses its Labor Home Page to oppose a ban on the import of products made in violation of another nation’s child labor laws. Free trade is "probably part of the solution to eradicating child labor," Heritage says; and besides, "not all forms of child labor are exploitive or cruel."

"Experts" on labor listed by the Heritage Foundation include strident anti-union foe Reed Larson, head of the National Right to Work Committee and Rex Reed, executive vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, who specializes in providing legal assistance to scabs and freeloaders.


The Heritage Foundation, together with the Wall Street Journal, published the 1998 Index of Economic Freedom. Countries are ranked by 10 factors, including trade policy, taxation, government intervention in the economy, capital flow, regulation, property rights and wage controls. Trade union rights or the right to decent housing, quality health care, adequate retirement income or a job with family-supporting wages do not enter into this computation of "economic freedom."

The United States holds fifth place, after Hong Kong, Singapore, Bahrain and New Zealand. Canada ranks 14th and Germany 24th, while France and Italy are tied for 35th place.

The Heritage Foundation’s foreign policy web page mixes nostalgia for the Reagan-era military build-up with reports touting "NAFTA’s Positive Impact on the United States" and arguing for the importance of fast-track authority.

In August, Heritage urged Congress to act favorably on fast track in September (the vote failed.)

Other Heritage publications oppose the minimum wage, promote tax cuts for the rich; titles include "The Myth of Widespread American Poverty" and "Take This Job and Love It: Exposing the Lies About Low-Paying Work."


Not surprisingly, the work of the Heritage Foundation is directed by monied right-wingers. Richard Mellon Scaife, Heritage vice president, is an heir to the Mellon fortune and a media tycoon known for his conspiracy-theory addiction and ruthless streak. New trustee Holland "Holly" Coors is a socialite daughter of the wealthy and notoriously right-wing beer-making dynasty. Jay Van Andel, the founder and senior chairman of Amway Corp., is joined on the board of trustees by his daughter, Barb Van Andel-Gaby, Amway’s vice president for corporate affairs.

Heritage Foundation Secretary J. Frederic Rench is chairman and CEO of Racine Industries. The board of trustees also boasts: J. William Middendorf II, who is credited with being an intellectual force behind NAFTA; former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon; Thomas A. Roe, the former chairman of the board of Builders Marts of America, and the founder of the Roe Foundation, which provides grants to conservative organizations; Thomas L. Rhodes, president and chairman of the board of directors of National Review; Douglas F. Allison, chairman and CEO of Allison-Fisher Inc., an automotive marketing research and consultancy firm; and Preston A. Wells, a commercial real estate and ranching entrepreneur.

More impressive still is the board of trustees of one of the nation’s oldest and largest think tanks. The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) boasts14 corporate chief executive officers on its board, among them the heads of Aluminum Company of America, American Express, Cigna, CSX, Dow Chemical, Motorola, Procter and Gamble and State Farm Insurance Presidential aspirant and flat-tax promoter Steve Forbes, president and CEO of Forbes Inc. is on the American Enterprise Institute board, as is George R. Robert of Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), the infamous buy ’em-and-close ’em artists. Former President Gerald Ford and failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork are institute fellows.


Founded in 1943, the AEI presents itself as a dedicated defender of private enterprise. (A recent article entitled "Was the New Deal Constitutional?" gives a clue as to its origins.) Unlike Heritage, "AEI is strictly nonpartisan and takes no institutional positions on pending legislation or other policy questions." The corporations behind AEI are too interested in charting the direction of the global economy to waste the think tank’s resources on the details and deals of everyday politics.

AEI hosts frequent conferences, seminars and lectures; its publications are distributed to policy-makers and trend-setters in government, business, the news media and academia. AEI boasts that its scholars frequently testify before congressional committees "and are cited and reprinted in the national media more often than those of any other think tank."

A speech by the director of AEI’s trade policy studies, delivered at the University of Costa Rica in March, examined the "Politics of Trade and Fast Track in the United States." Claude E. Barfield pointed out that there is less support among Congressional Democrats for fast track now than there was when NAFTA was approved in 1993. Democrats elected in 1994 and 1996 "were more likely to come from core areas in the inner cities with heavy minority makeup and/or from labor-dominated districts."

Analysis that offers leaders of big business the basis for policy decisions is AEI’s stock-in-trade.

Topics covered by AEI lean heavily to international finance, law and trade and foreign policy. A scholarly rationalization of European colonization received respectful attention. Articles published by AEI have supported replacement of Social Security with IRAs, advocated the regressive flat tax, opposed time-and-one-half after 8 hours, and claimed that workers’ compensation encourages workplace accidents.


On the other hand, the Employment Policy Foundation and its lobbying arm, the Labor Policy Association (LPA), have no problem with direct involvement in the political process. The organizational twins are connected to the law firm of McGuiness and Williams, with offices near the White House. LPA’s more than 200 members include human-resource officials at firms as large as Eastman Kodak, Honeywell, Motorala and Texas Instruments.

"Helping companies deal with external influences over human resource policies and practices" is how LPA, a membership organization of personnel bosses and management attorneys, describes its mission. What that means is preparing and promoting anti-union legislation like the TEAM Act.

LPA has enjoyed access to power since the Republican victory in 1994 transformed the House Labor and Education Committee into the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee.

The Wall Street Journal reported in February 1995 how the labor agenda of newly renamed committee’s chairperson, Rep. Bill Goodling (Rep., Pa.) "closely matches that of the Labor Policy Association, a business lobbying group representing some of the nation’s biggest employers."

In addition to the TEAM Act, that agenda includes repeal of Davis-Bacon and elimination of the 40-hour work week in favor of "flexibility."

"Probably fearing the loss of chance to hire union-busting lawyers, fire union supporters and intimidate and lie to their workers, an employers’ group has issued a report attacking card-check recognition," reported the AFL-CIO. "The Labor Policy Association’s 92-page diatribe against workers’ choice even sheds tears for the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. When previous management refused card-check recognition and mounted its anti-union campaign in 1994 against workers and their unions, HERE Locals 165 and 226 fought back with tactics decried by LPA, such as an information campaign, demonstrations and even opposition to hotel expansion plans."

The AFL-CIO report added, "Apparently LPA doesn’t think it’s a fair fight unless workers have both hands tied behind their backs."

LPA keeps a relatively low profile, offering no information on its activities to the Internet-surfing public.

Delegates to the 1995 UE Political Action Conference knew enough about LPA’s involvement in the TEAM Act to picket the organization’s Washington headquarters. For now, at least, such picket lines are not subject to federal prosecution.

UE News - 10/98

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