Matt Patterson
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Trade unions are a school of communism. -Vladimir Lenin

Legendary labor leader Andy Stern has seen the future. There’s no freedom there, but he’s OK with that. Mr. Stern, a former president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), recently returned from a trip to China, where he had the opportunity to meet with “high-ranking” government officials, who outlined for the former labor leader the authoritarian regime’s long-term economic plan.

Mr. Stern was so enamored with what he saw in the Middle Kingdom that he praised the communist country’s state-planned economy in the pages of the Wall Street Journal and urged the United States to embark on a similar path. Among the more revolting passages of Mr. Stern’s love letter to Leninism:

“The conservative-preferred, free-market fundamentalist, shareholder-only model - so successful in the 20th century - is being thrown onto the trash heap of history in the 21st century. In an era when countries need to become economic teams, Team USA’s results - a jobless decade, 30 years of flat median wages, a trade deficit, a shrinking middle class and phenomenal gains in wealth but only for the top 1 percent - are pathetic. This should motivate leaders to rethink, rather than double down on an empirically failing free-market extremism.”

That a labor leader would proclaim love for freedom an extreme view should come as no surprise - the history of labor unions has been intimately entwined with the history of global communism. As the influential Dutch astronomer and Marxist theorist Anton Pannekoek wrote in his 1908 treatise, “The Labor Movement and Socialism,” “The object of the labor movement is to increase the strength of the proletariat to the point at which it can conquer the organized force of the bourgeoisie and thus establish its own supremacy.”

Vladimir Lenin agreed and made unions an integral part of the “people’s republic” he founded in 1917. “Shakedown Socialism” author Oleg Atbashian, a propagandist for the Soviet Union before he migrated the United States in 1994, writes that in the Soviet Union, “organized labor was part of the official establishment and union membership was universal and mandatory” and “that system’s seemingly magnanimous goals - fairness, economic equality and social justice - in real life brought forth a rigged game of wholesale corruption, forced inequality and grotesque injustice.”

Hmm, sounds a lot like what unions have inflicted upon the United States: wholesale corruption as many union chapters have historically acted as fronts for organized crime; forced inequality as unionized public employees out-earn their counterparts in the private sector; grotesque injustice as greedy unions strong-armed lavish salaries and benefits for themselves that bust the budgets of entire states, forcing non-union folks to suffer higher taxes and fewer services.

The sad thing is, for a time in the 20th century, American unions turned from this seedy past to become defenders of economic freedom. As Ivan Osorio, labor expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, notes, “During the Cold War, the AFL-CIO, Teamsters and most major U.S. labor unions were staunchly anti-communist. In fact, the AFL-CIO under Lane Kirkland worked closely with the Reagan administration to aid the Solidarity movement in Poland.” Unfortunately, our 21st-century unions seem to be slipping back to their traditional socialist mores and tendencies as they decline in popularity. In 2010, the union membership rate was 11.9 percent, down from 20.1 percent in 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unions today loathe freedom, as Andy Stern demonstrates in his Wall Street Journal column, because unions require unfree markets in order to thrive. They love big government because unions require the government to guarantee their monopolies on labor. And it is precisely those features of unions that have contributed to their increasing unpopularity in the United States, where citizens are becoming wise to the corrupt conspiracy between unions and government to extinguish their liberties.

In a February interview with The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, Mr. Stern lamented the decline of organized labor’s power and influence and waxed nostalgic about the movement’s early days: “We had to do sit-down strikes and various other things. We had socialist and communist tendencies. We grew up, to speak in Marxist terms, in a world with a lot more class struggle … but it’s not viewed through that light anymore.”

Yeah, poor unions. If we were all a little more Marxist, maybe they wouldn’t be having such a tough time of it.

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Matt Patterson

Matt Patterson is senior editor at the Capital Research Center and contributor to Proud to be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation (HarperCollins, 2010). His email is mpatterson.column@gmail.com.