Sunday, 13 March 2011

The lies and hypocrisy of the right's "union thugs" narrative

Despite mass protests across the country and the occupation of the state capitol building, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker on Friday signed into law a bill which strips public sector unions of collective bargaining rights. However, the day after saw the largest round of protests yet. Workers are quickly learning that even after a law comes to pass, the struggle continues.

The immediate response to the bill's passing was that up to 7,000 people stormed the capitol. This act came not only in response to the bill but also challenges a court order which previously saw occupiers vacate the building. It also shows that, despite the fourteen Democratic senators who fled the state to head off a vote on the issue being cheered as homecoming heroes by the unions, it demonstrates that the appetite for direct action remains strong.

Typically, this has inspired the right to go on the offensive. Union bosses have been branded as "acting like thugs" by, among others, Sarah Palin. Apparently, they ought to "turn down the rhetoric and start getting truth out there so that nobody gets hurt."

If the irony of using such absurd hyperbole to accuse others of "rhetoric" wasn't enough, consider that this is the same woman who used a map with gun sight crosshairs in a campaign against Democratic senators who voted for Obamacare. Not to mention that after the shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords she responded to those who (perhaps with far more justification) told her to "turn down the rhetoric" by comparing them to the infamous blood libel against the Jews.

But Palin is not the only one. Across the conservative and libertarian right, a number of absurd accusations are being thrown around by complete and utter morons.

A number of unions have put together a letter (PDF) which warns businesses that those who support the dismantling of union rights will face a boycott by union members. Not unreasonable, you might think, given that union members wouldn't want to give custom to those who support the dismantling of hard-won rights anyway. But no, according to some bloggers, this is "extortion" and a "threat."

Not, I imagine, that they would think the same of Tea Party boycotts of pro-Obama corporations. I'd say that in both cases people were simply using their consumer power to make a political point. Whether you agree with the cause behind it, or think the tactic effective, the question of if it is right or wrong shouldn't vary depending on the political leanings of those behind the action. But then, I'm a moral universalist and not a foaming-at-the-mouth reactionary lunatic.

Elsewhere, as Salon notes, Fox News have been trying to construct a narrative of violence and intimidation by union activists. Footage from Raw Story shows reporter Mike Tobin being jostled in a crowd of union demonstrators, which from Tobin's perspective becomes a threat to break his neck during which he could "see the hate in their eyes."

Nor is Tobin's the only fabricated assault. Media Matters offers us up the story of a Tea Party activist apparently assaulted with a bullhorn and choked by a union activist. Unfortunately, as with so many of these events, it just didn't happen.

Direct action is not the act of "thugs" or "goons." It is the act of ordinary people challenging the dominion of state and capital over their lives. The faux-"libertarians" of the right, standing for politicians and state suppression of freedoms when it suits them, have had their day in the sun. Let the real battle for liberty rage, and the hypocritical reactionaries crawl back into their holes.