Brief of the Week August 14-21, 2008

Many on the left and in the hierarchy of Big Labor were shocked last week to see in the Wall Street Journal an op-ed attacking the unions’ beloved Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), also known as “card-check.” The arguments against the measure — which would end the secret ballot in union elections — were familiar, but it was the author of the op-ed that was stunning: George McGovern. Branding the labor-backed legislation “a disturbing and undemocratic overreach,” the 1972 Democratic hopeful who was arguably his party’s most left-of-center nominee for president until Barack Obama came along this year said that EFCA “runs counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement. EFCA risks silencing those who would speak.” McGovern went on to point out that rather than the current private elections overseen by an impartial federal board, card-check would mean that “union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit… There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.” The former South Dakota senator and House member also noted that workers in Mexico insist on the secret ballot in voting whether or not workplaces should have unions, and “[w]e should have no less for employees in our country.” Likening his stance against card-check to “my early and lonely opposition to the Vietnam War,” McGovern conceded that “it is never pleasant to stand against one’s party and one’s friends.” But, he added, it was important to do so to “enjoy the freedom of expression and freedom from fear that is our ideal and our right.”