Union Fear of Democracy

When fighting the War on Terror or any war, there are always the conflicting priorities of individual liberties and the effective execution of the war. It seems that the trimming of the edges of civil liberties during the current conflict has been at best reasonable and at worst fairly minor excursions given the way wars have been executed in the past.

Some Democrats are bent out of shape at the interception of electronic communications between elements of Al Qaeda on foreign soil with Americans in the absence of warrant. The Administration has backed off a probably legal tactic, but what ever civil liberties might have been broached are small compared to World War II when all international communications were subject to warrantless interception.

Others are bothered at to the disposition of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Are they prisoners of war? If they are, then they can be held to the end of the War on Terror, which may be indefinitely. If they are tried in criminal courts and they are prisoners of war, it violates the Geneva Convention. The issue of illegal combatants is complicated, but perhaps the detainees can best labeled as “pirates” under international law. Whatever one thinks about this issue, its consequences are small compared to thousands of Japanese Americans detained during World War II.

While much press attention and public argument have been devoted to statistically rare and extreme civil liberties questions, glaring civil liberties issues that can effect thousands if not millions are largely ignored. Recently, the Supreme Court has allowed to circumscription of First Amendment in the vicinity of abortion clinics and an expansive view of the states’ right to eminent domain.

Add to this list of assault on civil liberties, the recent law passed by the House of Representatives on a largely party-line vote. The bill is a payback by the Democratic Party for aggressive union support. Under current law, parties can request secret ballots for workers voting to organize a union. The new Democratic bill eliminates the right to a secret ballot, making workers subject to union intimidation. Since it is the unions who are pushing for this provision, it is clear that they are convinced that in many case workers left to the free choice would reject union advances.

Unions may be frustrated in their declining membership in the face of a massive switch from a manufacturing to a service-based economy. However, this is not sufficient reason to violate the cherished principle of a secret ballot.

Now labor supporters argue that companies can intimidate workers so the unions need this advantage to counter act company activities. The argument is self-refuting considering that an open ballot would make workers more subject to company intimidation. The whole idea behind the secret ballot was to originally protect workers from company retaliation. As a general rule, whoever wishes to eliminate the secret ballot is the party that hopes to gain by intimidation. It this case, it is the unions.

The bill will likely not survive the Senate, where a filibuster will probably kill the bill before it even comes to a vote. Even if it were to pass the Senate, President Bush would exercise a rare veto. In a sense, this a free vote for Democrats, they can payback unions, without actually being responsible for a bill that undermines democratic (this time certainly with a small “d”) principles. The cynicism makes Democratic protests about civil liberties in other contexts suspect.

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