Gun Control Issue from the Wisconsin AFL-CIO's Report on the Right Wing
The Right also sees the gun control issue as a means to divert workers from voting according to their economic interests and that of their families. The Right sees it as a particularly clever way to prevent workers from following the candidate endorsements of their union, which are made based on economic interests of the members. Neal Knox, a former head of the National Rife Association (NRA), said as much:
"[The gun issue] is the one thing that will spin the blue-collar union member away from his union."26The NRA conducted a massive get-out-the-vote effort on behalf of George W. Bush. Chuck Cunningham, a former director of voter education for the Christian Coalition, led that effort for the NRA. Before working for Christian Coalition, Cunningham was executive director of the anti-union New England Citizens for Right-to-Work.27
Charlton Heston, former president of the NRA, supported the National Right-to-Work Committee in 1994 when it lobbied Congress to defeat S.55 / H.R.5 Anti-Strikebreaker Bill. This would have prohibited employers from permanently replacing striking workers (an act which is illegal in other industrialized countries). Heston appealed to union members to "put freedom first" and support NRA-endorsed candidates, and yet the right to strike is a most basic and essential freedom. Heston personally appealed to members of Congress to defeat pro-worker legislation that would prohibit strikebreakers and produced a video on behalf of the National Right-to-Work Committee, which called him their "world famous ally."28
In 1996, Charlton Heston championed the most serious threat to the very existence of labor unions. He assisted the National Right-to-Work Committee in a $260,000 ad campaign to lobby Congress to pass a National Right-to-Work Bill which had been introduced.29 Right-to-Work legislation would prohibit unions from negotiating any union security clause in their contracts. Union membership would be totally voluntary, though all workers must receive the wages and benefits negotiated in the union contract and they must be legally represented in any grievances. It has nothing to do with a right to work, but is part of a larger corporate strategy to financially weaken and eventually eliminate unions. Now deceased, Heston was a very effective spokesman for the NRA in distracting workers from the Right’s real agenda.
The report points out:
- The American Right, as it has evolved over the past four decades, is determined to undo all the progress made on behalf of the working class and middle class since the 1930s. This is when President Franklin Roosevelt responded to the misery of the Great Depression, and a vocal movement on the Left, to vastly expand the role of government to serve the people. He created a legal framework for union organizing and collective bargaining through the National Labor Relations Act, formed reliable economic support programs such as Social Security, and regulated business to protect the common good. Ever since, the Right has been on a campaign to demonize government and erode public confidence in its ability to have a meaningful impact in their lives. This is because the people are defenseless in the face of corporate power without government as an ally to protect their interests.
- Over the last 40 years the Right has been transformed from small fringe groups of John Birch Society zealots and ineffective Goldwater-type politicians, into a powerful anti-worker, anti-progressive movement to enhance corporate power. The American Right of today has an extensive political infrastructure that is immensely more sophisticated and well-funded than at any period in our country’s history.
- Corporate America could care less about gun control, traditional family values or abortion (or the latest useful single issue-of-the-day), nor does it feel totally comfortable with the extremism of the religious front for the Right, but the overall movement serves corporate economic interests perfectly.
- The Right has developed an extensive infrastructure of national and state-level think tanks, legal advocacy groups, magazines, columnists, social media, its own Fox TV network and conservative commentators. They are magnified by the numerous conservative radio talk shows which create an "echo chamber" and give a false impression there is a public mandate for Right Wing policies.
- The opinion of any individual on a given issue should be respected. However, unions have a duty to represent workers’ economic interests and inform members of any threats to those interests. Members must be alerted to the Right’s "bait and switch" tactics -- the use of certain single issues and religious faith to distract voters from the Right’s anti-worker, anti-union, anti-democratic political agenda. All voters must understand that it is dangerous to make a decision about a candidate based on a single issue, given that a movement hostile to middle class and working class economic interests is cynically manipulating emotional issues.
- Ideas have consequences. The Right aims to repeal decades of progress in improving labor standards, civil rights, environmental and consumer protection, women’s status, gay rights, public education and economic support programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.). The very existence of unions as effective organizations to represent the economic interests of working families is threatened. This is a sophisticated, determined, corporate-funded Right Wing movement that will not automatically be swept back by some hoped-for political pendulum. It will not dissipate on its own. It needs to be challenged and defeated.
26. "The NRA Wants You", The Nation, May 29, 2000.
27. The Nation, May 29, 2000; “The Right Wing and Labor”, UAW Solidarity, September 1995.
28. National Right to Work Committee Newsletter, July 1994; “Right to Work Targets Senators in Campaign to Defeat S55”, Labor Relations Week, May 25, 1994; Group Research Report, June 1994.
29. “Reject ‘Right to Work’ Bill” editorial in Capital Times, July 9, 1996.