Taking a page from the union-buster play book, squads of well organized and financed agitators have disrupted the town hall meetings of a growing number of Democrats during the August recess. Congressional Democrats have held a number of these town hall meetings in order to answer questions and clarify some of the details surrounding the ongoing health care reform debate. In an escalating number of places, however, the meetings have been derailed by highly orchestrated disruption techniques, launched by the obviously well-planned Republican and corporate operatives. To add to their minuscule ranks the paid staffers have enlisted a hodge podge of fanatic anti-Obama protesters as well as hard core right wing and anti-labor elements.
Several of the meetings have been completely dominated by goon squad tactics, with flustered lawmakers, their staffs, supporters of reform, and members of the public watching as the meetings were systematically wrecked or taken over by the screeching supporters of the health insurance industry. The most outlandish lies and misrepresentations about the Democrats’ health reform proposal were repeated over and over again during the meetings, and when combined with the boisterous and sometimes violent conduct of the disrupters the town hall meetings have become a public relations disaster for the Democrats. An absolute low point for the disrupters was reached last week when multi-millionaire talk radio host (and de facto Republican Party spokesman) Rush Limbaugh claimed that the meetings were being attacked because the Obama health care reform proposal was “Hitler-like.” Were the stakes not so high we would be inclined to dismiss such idiocy.
This contrived hooliganism and its violence must be exposed and condemned for what it is; a brazen attempt by Republican Party operatives, their phony front groups, and the corporate health care and insurance industry to kill off the Obama health care reform push. Working people and UE members are urged to push back against this disgraceful assault on the health care reform effort currently underway. UE members are asked to attend a town hall meeting in-person if possible, or call lawmakers at the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. One, tell your lawmakers to get busy exposing and denouncing the role of the corporations and their front groups in these attacks on the public town hall meetings. Two, tell them to stop trying to negotiate some kind of reform plan with these elements who are opposed to all reform, and who profit from our current health care disaster. And three, tell them to go back and read HR676, the Medicare for All bill which would cover everyone and save the nation countless billions of dollars by eliminating the insurance companies from the scene.
The Democrats in Congress should also be made aware of a few things as the beer-hall brawlers do their damage. First, it was surely the worst possible strategy to attempt to take a half-written collection of half a dozen health care reform plans and get up in front of anyone and attempt to answer questions about them. Never in recent history have so many lawmakers blundered into such an obvious trap. Second, House and Senate Democrats should know that what they are now witnessing in their meetings is nothing more than what hundreds of thousands of working people are subjected to every year when they try to join a union. The only difference is that working people are forced to endure months of intimidation, lies, disruption, and chaos – and frequently termination from their jobs Â when they try to exercise their right to join a union. The Democrats should be glad that they are only forced to tolerate a few hours of this corporate attack.
When workers try to join a union today in the private sector, in almost every case the boss goes into action; he hires a lawyer to delay, and then he hires a union busting consultant to launch the legal and illegal counterattack. The boss never admits to this, however, and claims throughout that he just wants everyone to have a “secret ballot” election someday to settle things fair and square. The boss and consultant then turn the workplace upside down – just like they are doing in the town hall format – with their contrived chaos and terror. They lie, misrepresent, instill fear, generate chaos, and completely muddy the waters with their sophisticated and unsophisticated tactics at the same time. And not satisfied to browbeat workers in a group setting, the boss and his consultant then subject workers to one-on-one interrogation and humiliation sessions all intended to make it clear to the worker that voting “no” is their only option. By the time the “secret ballot” election rolls around the damage is done. Confused and terrorized workers then vote “no” and against joining the union. Their desire or need for a union does not matter any more. The facts don’t matter. The laws protecting the worker don’t matter because they are rarely enforced. By election day workers just hope to just have some sense of normalcy returned to their workplaces after the bosses contrived turbulence has run its course.
We suggest that the Members of Congress who are being subjected to these attacks on their democratic rights consider just how “free” and “fair” any secret ballot election would be in the face of the kind of tactics they have now had just a small taste of. We suggest that they go so far as to conduct a “secret ballot” election after their meeting has been destroyed by the current crop of disrupters, and then we’ll ask them how legitimate they think the results are. Democrats must learn this lesson; the operators storming the town hall meetings are interested in killing-off all reform efforts, and they will do or say or raise a stink any way they have to in order to win. Because just like in the world of the anti-union consultants, they know full well that when the confusion and terror has run its course, large numbers of people who were formerly in favor of health care reform might not be in favor of it anymore. This is how the insurance industry will make their grossly over-priced total control of our very health and lives look like something worth saving – or so they hope. We can’t let that happen.
When Congress comes back to Washington, D.C. in September the Democrats must return with a renewed sense of determination to pass real and sweeping health care reform. Compromise with the enemies of reform is obviously impossible and fruitless, even dangerous at this point. And UE urges Congress to enact the Employee Free Choice Act immediately upon their return, now that they are familiarized with why it is so urgently needed. The enemies of health care reform and the enemies of restoring the right to join a union are the same, as we have just been shown over the past week in one town hall meeting after another across the country. Democrats in Congress and the Obama White House had better learn this lesson.
Chris Townsend is the Political Action Director for the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, (UE)