Politics, it said, makes for strange bedfellows. I have seen hundreds of examples in the many years I have been involved in politics. Here is another example which I never expected to see. Those who follow this commentary know that one of the chief concerns of Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao as she wraps up nearly eight years of service in the Cabinet of President George W. Bush is the so-called Card Check Program.
Liberals in Congress have promised to enact the card-check law in the next Congress. Senator Barack H. Obama has pledged to sign it if he were to become President. In typical Orwellian fashion, the legislation is called the "Employee Free Choice Act." As Secretary Chao has stated, this legislation would deprive ordinary workers of the right to a secret ballot as to whether to organize a union in a factory or company. Secretary Chao's opposition to this measure is to be expected since she represents an Administration which has been opposed by union bosses from day one.
What I did not expect was who has joined her in opposition to card check. Are you ready? Former Senator and Democratic Presidential nominee George S. McGovern. He has come out as strongly opposed to card check as Secretary Chao.
This is a shock because McGovern had a 100% pro-union voting record while serving as a Senator. Whenever measures would surface which were favorable to unions McGovern would defend. I never expected McGovern to oppose card check.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, under the title "My party should respect secret union ballots," McGovern stated, "I have 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." McGovern went on to say that as a long-time friend of the labor unions, he feels he must raise his voice against as what he sees as, "a disturbing and undemocratic overreach" which is not in the interest of either management or labor.
McGovern goes on to explain that the key provision of card check is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. "Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a work place or bargaining unit."
According to McGovern there are many documented cases in which workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards which have led to mandatory payment of dues. McGovern suggested that workers could lose their freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear or reprisal.
Secretary Chao could not have said it better. McGovern pleads with his party not to support card check. Said the former Senator from South Dakota, "We cannot be a party that strips workers of the right to a secret ballot election. We are the party that always defended the rights of the working class. To fail to ensure the right to vote free of intimidation and coercion from all sides would be a betrayal of what we have always championed." McGovern pointed out that key Democrats in Congress have insisted upon a secret ballot for unions in Mexico and elsewhere yet they support the opposite in this country.
He said sometimes it is necessary to tell friends "no" when a provision would weaken labor "and disrupt a tried and trusted method for conducting an honest election." I don't recall ever being on the same side as the Senator on a matter of major national debate. But on this issue I could not agree with him more. I belonged to a union (AFTRA) many years ago. I was pleased to be associated with my fellow broadcasters precisely because we had the privacy of the vote.
It may be asking too much since union bosses intend to put hundreds of millions of dollars into the fall campaign to elect more Democrats but it would behoove the Party elders to consider what McGovern has said. What might be a temporary gain could end up destroying the unions in the long run. It is always difficult for leaders to accept the long-range view as opposed to the temptation to act for immediate gain. For the good of the nation let us hope there at least some Democrats willing to take the long view.