Labor Watch

Unions’ Anti-Israel Posturing Exposes the Illusion of a Right-Labor Alliance

Aided by a tight labor market, Big Labor is having something of a moment. Even the young guns of the self-appointed “New Right” are getting in on the action.

But mainstream Republicans must be forewarned: Along with the well-known historical problems with unions, the modern labor movement actively embraces “social justice unionism.” Among its many other problems, this ideology entails decidedly questionable positions on the war between Israel and Hamas.

Right-leaning wonks, in encouraging a second look at unions, are renouncing the 80-year Republican and conservative commitment to voluntarism in union membership and activities. They are going back on their commitment to government scrutiny of union activities and to restricting the fallout of labor disputes on neutral businesses, consumers and other economic and social actors.

The New Right’s operating thesis is that since working people are more likely to vote for conservative candidates than they used to be, and since the largest corporations in the country have acceded to left-wing “woke” social policy, Republicans and conservatives should reach out to labor unions and union officials.

It’s not a facially stupid idea. Washington political and advocacy types are used to working with representative figures for divided and fractious constituencies. Here one might recall the quip attributed to the late Henry Kissinger: “Who do I call when I want to call Europe?” For professional politicos, union bosses fill that gap when it comes to working people.

But what if the union bosses who answer the “Who do I call?” question are out of step with all but the ideological activist base of their constituencies?

With Big Labor and conservatives, this is absolutely the case, thanks to an ideology that union activists call “social justice unionism.” These activists want unions to be about far more than wages, hours and working conditions. They want to push full-spectrum leftism on environmental, social and foreign policy. For an idea of how pervasive social justice unionism is, consider how some of the very unions the New Right has praised have responded to the war between Israel and Hamas.

Some on the right offered supportive voices or even joined picket lines on behalf of the United Auto Workers (UAW) during its recent strike against the Detroit Three automakers, despite OpenSecrets data showing that the union’s employees and affiliates directed 99.27 percent of their party-identifiable federal contributions to Democrats in the 2022 election cycle.

Shortly after the end of the strike, the UAW demonstrated why it gave so much to liberals: Its leadership is aligned with the leftmost wing of the progressive movement. A sizable faction of the UAW’s membership today is not manufacturing workers but unionized university graduate students. And UAW’s national leadership took its cues on the Israel-Hamas conflict based on the pressure it faced from these more “woke” constituencies—most prominently its graduate student union at Harvard, which has been embroiled in a broader controversy over left-wing antisemitism.

The New Right has yet to explain how it can reconcile its conservative ideals with this brand of leftism. Even so, some conservatives have praised this new organizing direction and vocally support the organizing of new unions like the Amazon Labor Union.

Perhaps they are hoping that independent organizations will be less ideological than the Big Labor behemoths of the SEIU and AFL-CIO. If so, then the ALU almost immediately let them down. The new union didn’t even wait for the war to start to demand that their employer break contracts with the Israeli government, all the while campaigning alongside controversial activist Linda Sarsour.

Another new union rattling an ultra-woke company is the SEIU-backed Starbucks Workers United, which reacted to news of the attacks of Oct. 7 by posting (and later deleting) “Solidarity with Palestine” in reaction to images of trucks plowing through the Israel-Gaza border barrier to murder and kidnap Israeli civilians. Its local chapters promoted anti-Israel rallies. This understandably prompted a boycott threat against the company from the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce.

As annoying as the liberal Starbucks might be, is the proper response to enable and strengthen an even more radical faction of the left?

Objectively, there’s no obvious reason for labor unions to side with a hostile power against an American ally. Indeed, those representing workers in munitions and defense-related industries should, in theory, favor strong support for the allies their workers will help supply. But today’s labor unions are not solely economic interest groups any more. They probably never have been. Instead, they are radical left-wing activist groups no different from the woke campus mobs that the New Right claims to oppose. Labor unionists are open about who they are; will the New Right believe them?

This article originally appeared in The Hill on December 14, 2023.

Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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