Conservatives and Unions


CONSERVATIVES AND UNIONS….Tim Fernholz shakes his head over the current conservative obsession with supposed liberal efforts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, and then asks a question:

The problem, of course, is that most folks on the left could care less about the Fairness Doctrine and don’t see bringing it back as necessary or important, as The Los Angeles Times chronicles. But, obviously, a good number of conservatives are worked up about this fake issue. Which is weird, but also got me to thinking: Are liberals worked up about a similarly fake conservative project?

Sure. A few years ago there was a boomlet in liberals claiming that Bush was going to reinstate the draft. It was always a ridiculous notion, but it had a certain amount of currency in the blogosphere for a while. I think I even succumbed to it once myself during the 2004 campaign season.

But what else? Fernholz decided to ask some conservatives, and James Poulos gave this answer:

I suppose I have a less controversial and a more controversial answer for you. The less controversial answer is that [it] doesn’t seem right to me to claim that conservatives are out to destroy the unions….The more controversial answer is that I don’t think “overturning Roe vs. Wade” really accurately describes “a conservative project” anymore.

I’d say this is exactly backward. Overturning Roe v. Wade is obviously still a conservative project, but I’d at least give a hearing to the argument that there are plenty of conservatives who (a) don’t really care about Roe and (b) believe that overturning it is a hopeless cause. Sure, they’re all willing to keep it in the GOP platform and support pro-life judges (as long as they’re also pro-business judges), but you can certainly make the case that a serious obsession with Roe is a minority position even within the conservative movement.

So even though I’d still disagree with Poulos on this point, I’d call it the less controversial claim. Union busting, conversely, strikes me as being so deeply embedded in conservative DNA that it’s virtually impossible to imagine an American conservative movement that didn’t have anti-unionism as one of its core planks. In the last 30 years conservatives have made virtually no only modest inroads on their pro-life agenda, but they’ve made steady progress on the anti-union front ever since the end of World War II — via legislation, executive orders, new agency rules, NLRB appointments, and judicial nominations at both the state and federal level. This is no coincidence. The prospect of unionization rouses panic among Main Street conservatives more than any other single issue — more than taxes, more than deregulation — and whether James Dobson likes it or not, the GOP is a business party first and a social conservative party second.

Overturning Roe is certainly a conservative priority, but it’s only been on the list for about 30 years. Fighting labor has been on the list for more like 130 years. If it’s not central to the conservative identity in America, I don’t know what is.

UPDATE: Edited slightly. As JR points out in comments, in conservative regions of the country pro-life forces have won a fair number of battles at the state and local level.

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