Almost nobody doubts that come September, Richard Trumka will become the AFL-CIO’s next president, replacing the retiring John Sweeney. Having occupied the labor federation’s secretary-treasurer position for nearly 14 years, he’s done everything his boss and the ideological faithful could ask of him. That’s a major reason why he and his slate are running almost unopposed. But more than Sweeney, Trumka, a trained lawyer, has a palpably combative edge, much of it honed during his tenure as head of the United Mine Workers of America. His far Left populism was on display Thursday in his written denunciation of the “mob rule” allegedly exercised by attendees at meetings across the U.S. organized by members of Congress to discuss White House and congressional health plans. The statement provides a sneak preview of what Trumka will bring to the AFL-CIO’s top spot.
Let’s digress for a minute. The Obama health reform package has been subject to widespread criticism since its unveiling in late May. Much of the skepticism has been voiced by people who can’t really be called “right wing.” There’s a good reason for this broad-based opposition. Under the guise of “universal coverage,” the plan effectively would nationalize our health care delivery, in effect accomplishing what the Clinton administration had tried to do some 15 years ago. Even a good many liberals have their limits when it comes to socialism.
Various House and Senate Democrats have put forth their own measures that endorse the White House plan, each seemingly determined to maximize taxpayer cost and minimize consumer choice. The House Democrat bill, for example, would run $1.5 trillion over the first 10 years and would force employers and households alike to buy health insurance. It also would provide subsidies to households whose threshold of eligibility would be 400 percent of the poverty line, expand Medicaid eligibility to households up to 133 percent of the poverty line, and establish a federal plan available through insurance exchanges. Bills introduced in the Health and Finance committees in the Senate are somewhat less expensive, but also go a long way in socializing health care. And as the baby boom generation enters their senior citizen years, the costs may prove staggering. As it is, the respected health care research firm, the Lewin Group, calculates that the House bill will add $460 annually to the average household health plan.
Understandably, a lot of Americans are alarmed at the future of their health plans and their country. They sense their liberties, as consumers and as taxpayers, will be set back, despite assurances to the contrary by the bills’ supporters. As a result, much of the opposition voiced at town hall meetings on occasion has been loud and confrontational. And while threats of violence or screaming are not acceptable forms of discourse, strong opposition is crucial for anyone concerned about the future of liberty in this country. Supporters of a greatly expanded federal role in health care don’t like this. They see angry citizens as an impediment to overdue reform.
Richard Trumka is one of those people. He sees disruptive tactics by certain attendees at town hall meetings as a “desperation move” engineered by corporate lobbyists. Here’s the key text of his statement:
Major health care reform is closer than ever to passage and it is no secret that special interests want to weaken or block it. These mobs are not there to participate. As their own strategy memo states, they have been sent by their corporate and lobbyist bankrollers to disrupt, heckle and block meaningful debate. This is a desperation move, meant to slow the momentum for change.
Mob rule is not democracy. People have a democratic right to express themselves and our elected leaders have a right to hear from their constituents – not organized thugs whose sole purpose is to shut down the conversation to scare our leaders into inaction.
Now having not attended any of these town hall meetings, I cannot vouch for the behavior of the attendees. If some have engaged in outright threats of violence, they should be excoriated. But one thing is certain: When it comes to justifying and indeed inciting the behavior of “organized thugs,” Richard Trumka takes a back seat to nobody. He has a history of launching campaigns of violence against employers and any workers foolhardy enough to give the appearance of crossing the union the wrong way.
A multistate UMW strike in 1993 provides a good example of union persuasion, Trumka-style. As union president, he ordered more than 17,000 miners to walk off their jobs. Among his goals was to ensure that nobody would find work in a mine without paying dues or agency fees to the union. Violence was frequent. That wasn’t surprising given Trumka’s explicit call to strikers to “kick the shit out of” employees and mine operators resisting demands. Trumka’s enforcers vandalized homes of opponents, fired shots at a mine office, and cut power to another mine, temporarily trapping 93 miners underground.
Union goons in that strike also committed another act: murder. On July 22, 1993, heavy-equipment operator Eddie York was shot in the back of the head as he drove past strikers away from a work site. He died instantly. UMW heavies proceeded to assault York’s would-be rescuers. Several weeks later, he offered this rationalization: “I’m saying if you strike a match and put your finger in, common sense tells you you’re going to burn your finger.” In other words, if you don’t show solidarity with the union, you’ll pay the price. The following June, a federal jury found Mine Workers strike captain Jerry Dale Lowe guilty on conspiracy and weapons charges in the death of York. Sometime before that, York’s widow, Wanda York, had filed a $27 million wrongful death suit, naming Trumka and several other UMW officials as co-defendants. For four years, Trumka and his allies fought the suit, all the while claiming Lowe was innocent. Then in June 1997, federal prosecutors announced they would release evidence from Lowe’s criminal trial to the attorneys of the York widow. Alarmed, UMW lawyers settled out of court.
Even after leaving his union presidency for his current AFL-CIO post, Trumka gave a nudge and a wink to criminal violence. In April 1998, he and his United Mine Workers successor, Cecil Roberts, came to Bentleyville, Pennsylvania to explain union policies. Some 50 union members showed up to protest. Exercising constitutional rights turned out not to be a smart move. Here’s an account by a progressive-Left journalist, Paul Sherrer, of what transpired:
Within minutes a group of UMWA officials and their supporters attacked the protesting miners, ripping leaflets and protest signs from their hands. Several miners were punched, knocked to the ground and kicked repeatedly. [Richard] Cicci was hit with a piece of lumber and suffered a large gash on his head…Richard Trumka refused to answer questions about the assault.
Richard Trumka’s denunciation of mob rule by opponents of the Obama health plan, to put it gently, lacks moral consistency. As a socialist, possibly even more of one than John Sweeney, he can be expected to support a radical expansion of government control over the health care sector. But his own history indicates that he has no objections to mob rule – as long as unions make the rules.