Former Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern has become a tough man to pigeonhole these days. Once the champion of the New Left vanguard that seized control of the Democratic Party in the late 60s and early 70s, McGovern has evolved towards his conservative South Dakota roots, at least to some degree. Earlier this year, he wrote about his embrace of personal responsibility after joining the private sector and realizing how an out-of-control government winds up infanticizing its citizens. Now he has taken aim at the unions that once supported him, scolding Democrats for championing a measure which strips the secret ballot from union organizing elections:
As a congressman, senator and one-time Democratic nominee for the presidency, I’ve participated in my share of vigorous public debates over issues of great consequence. And the public has been free to accept or reject the decisions I made when they walked into a ballot booth, drew the curtain and cast their vote. I didn’t always win, but I always respected the process.
Voting is an immense privilege.
That is why I am concerned about a new development that could deny this freedom to many Americans. As a longtime friend of labor unions, I must raise my voice against pending legislation I see as a disturbing and undemocratic overreach not in the interest of either management or labor.
The legislation is called the Employee Free Choice Act, and I am sad to say it runs counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement. Instead of providing a voice for the unheard, EFCA risks silencing those who would speak.
McGovern offers his respect and support for unions, both in their historic role in developing better working conditions and their contemporary role in representing workers, but remains firm in his opposition to the EFCA. He also points out that Democratic Party leaders such as Barney Frank and Pete Stark have gone abroad to insist on secret ballots for organizing elections in other countries. Why do secret ballots hold so much importance for foreign workers, but none for Americans?.
That answer should be obvious. In areas where workers face real workplace dangers and exploitation, unions enjoy popularity among workers — and they need the secret ballot to protect workers from the owners. In the US, the exact opposite is true. Thanks in large part to the efforts of unions decades ago, workplace safety issues have disappeared in most industries, as well as overtime exploitation and so on. Workers have much less motivation to join unions in the US as a result.
Now, workers need the secret ballot to protect themselves from both the owners and the unions themselves. Unions have lost power and money due to the decline in membership over the last few decades, and they are desperate to regain both. Democrats, who benefit overwhelmingly from the political power of unions, want to help them organize even if they have to sell out Americans to do it. Both the unions and the Democrats have conspired, therefore, to strip Americans of secret ballots in order to allow intimidation by unions to influence organizing elections.
McGovern kindly avoids pointing this out, probably thinking he’s already gone far enough with this WSJ column. He does warn that the Democrats may not have had enough discussion of the EFCA’s “ramifications”, but those consequences seem obvious and redound to the benefit of the party — at the expense of workers, freedom, and the nation. It’s a sell-out, and McGovern shows some character by refusing to sit silently and watch it happen.