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COMMENTARY: Progressives bring far-left politics to blue-collar unions

In the 1970s TV show “All In The Family,” Archie Bunker’s socially conservative worldview — pro-traditional values and anti-“commie pinko” — was attributed in part to his blue-collar union politics.

There were no Archie Bunkers at a recent Labor Notes gathering in Rosemont, Ill., just outside Chicago. Attendees learned about transgender rights, heard the pro-Hamas feminist perspective on the Middle East and were invited to join the Democratic Socialists of America.

The left-wing pro-labor conference is part of shifting dynamics in America’s labor movement, where progressive politics are becoming more popular. The president of the United Auto Workers union, Shawn Fain, makes no secret of his ties to the Democratic Socialists of America, which worked hard to help him win his post.

Labor Notes, the DSA and the Private Equity Stakeholder Project are all part of the growing progressive influence within American unions.

At the Labor Notes conference in early April, attendees swamped the area outside Hyatt Regency O’Hare to chant “Free Palestine” and square off with police. Inside, they attended workshops and heard speeches featuring activists such as University of California, Santa Barbara, professor (and Hamas defender) Charmaine Chua and Azani Creeks, a PESP research coordinator who was part of the coordinated anti-Israel demonstrations in New York that shut down traffic.

PESP positions itself as a watchdog organization protecting workers from the investment class. However, its social media feed features calls for ending U.S. support for Israel and “complicity with Israel’s crimes” and the message, “Liberation looks like terrorism in the eyes of the oppressor.”

Those are not the political views associated with blue-collar union members, many of whom voted for Donald Trump in 2020.

Politically moderate union members say organized labor used to be a bulwark protecting workers’ rights, fighting for fair wages, decent benefits, safe working conditions and needed time off. Now, unions are under siege, targeted for takeover by groups pushing an extreme, socialist agenda. A minority in labor, the progressives are gaining ground, the moderates fear.

This year’s Labor Notes conference devolved into a standoff between pro-Palestinian supporters and police on the first day. As protesters chanted “Free Palestine,” police took two women from the crowd into custody. Thousands of the protesters surrounded the officers, blocking traffic and shouting that the police were “fascists.”

But activists like those at the Labor Notes conference don’t represent the men and women who are dues-paying union members. One union chief, Rich Gulla, president of New Hampshire’s State Employees Association, said groups such as the DSA, Labor Notes and PESP don’t speak for his members.

The drama comes as the country’s biggest and most powerful labor union, the Teamsters, is signaling a possible right turn. Last week, the Teamsters’ political action committee gave conservative Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., a $5,000 campaign donation.

The Teamsters are traditional blue-collar Democrats and rarely side with Republicans. But Hawley has shown pro-union sympathies and even joined picket lines for the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers. In a presidential election year, while the Teamsters have yet to back a candidate, they did donate $45,000 to the Republican National Committee for its convention. That’s the most the Teamsters donated to the RNC since 2004, according to Axios.

Damien Fisher is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire. He wrote this for InsideSources.

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