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America's Outrage Over TSA Naked Body Scanners Fits Right into Libertarian PR Project to Prevent Workers from Unionizing

The right fears nothing more than unionized workers, and found a cunning way to scapegoat workers to derail a campaign to organize the TSA.

This is the year that the Republican right-wing, backed by corporate sponsors like the billionaire Koch brothers, have declared all-out war on public sector unions. It’s the culmination of a decades-long crusade against organized labor, which has only hit the national radar screen in recent months. The showdown in Wisconsin between Scott Walker and the unions has changed all that: suddenly, Americans had their eyes opened up to just how ruthlessly and cynically the Republican right was ready to fight to destroy public sector unions because they see it as a way to cripple the Democratic Party by killing off a major source of funding, as well as political muscle and votes. 

If there’s some good to come out of the right-wing’s war on Wisconsin and other state employees, it’s that we now have a better insight into the Republican playbook against public sector unions, which boils down to this: 1) Manufacture a fake budget crisis in order to frighten the state’s residents; 2) PR the false-crisis hard enough until it breaks out of the right-wing/libertarian pipeline and into the mainstream media; 3) Blame the fake crisis on a fake villain -- “greedy” state employee unions -- thereby pitting the public against state workers. That way, when Republicans pass new laws destroying teachers and firefighters unions, they’ll come off as heroes defending the public from greedy unions, rather than as sleazy mercenaries carrying out their corporate sponsors’ dirty work.  

Republicans have used this playbook before, of course, it’s just that Wisconsin finally made us all too aware. Perhaps the most obvious example -- and the least understood -- is from last November, when the same basic strategy was used to wage war against the TSA’s 55,000 employees, who have been locked in a savage decade-long battle to gain the same collective bargaining rights that employees of all other federal agencies enjoy. Unlike in Wisconsin, the Republican right succeeded in burying the story about the TSA employees’ struggle for collective bargaining rights underneath a sophisticated, well-PR’d campaign demonizing TSA screeners as modern-day Gestapo agents, rapists and child molesters.

But lost in all the media hysteria vilifying the TSA was the appalling story of labor abuse against the agency’s screeners, a consequence of Republican anti-union policies. If anyone is wondering why collective bargaining rights are so important to public sector workers, look no further than the TSA, whose employees suffer the lowest morale and highest attrition rates of any federal agency, year after year. Complaints and lawsuits abound, accusing TSA management of rampant sexual harassment, racism, bullying, wrongful termination and abuse of power. If that didn’t make working in the TSA difficult enough, the recent campaign demonizing TSA agents as modern-day Gestapo-agents turned them into the most hated of all federal employees; passengers, encouraged by incendiary PR, hurled abuses in TSA screeners’ faces, and in a few cases even physically attacked screeners.

Last November, we published an article in The Nation questioning the media-driven anti-TSA campaign, which we argued smelled of AstroTurf. For one thing, it made little sense that an issue like TSA pat-downs, offensive as they were, could dominate headlines for two straight weeks at a time when America was suffering from unprecedented corruption, lawless evictions of homeowners, unheard-of inequality, and wars that barely make news.

Sure enough, we uncovered numerous Koch-linked libertarian activists spearheading the campaign to demonize TSA screeners, DC lobbyists specializing in fake-grassroots campaigns setting up “Opt Out” websites while posing as regular Joes, and sleazy Republican hacks who had shown little interest in protecting civil liberties suddenly getting their ACLU on over the TSA’s intrusive pat-downs and “porn scans.” Progressives were understandably drawn into the anti-TSA campaign and hysteria, as the PR campaign cleverly framed it not as a union-bashing operation, but rather, as a purely civil liberties issue.  

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