As Labor Struggles, Have the Big Rights and Liberties Groups Like the ACLU Deserted Unions?
Continued from previous page
Maybe there’s no connection there whatsoever between the Kochs’ $20 million gift to the ACLU, and the ACLU’s advocacy for the Kochs’ pet political issue, Citizens United, which transferred greater power from democracy and into the hands of billionaire oligarchs like the Kochs. Maybe it’s all a coincidence, I don’t know. But we do know that there is precedent for the ACLU taking money from corporations, advocating their cause under the guise of “protecting free speech” and hiding the conflict of interest from the public in order to make their defense seem more convincing.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ACLU vigorously defended the interests of the tobacco lobby under the guise of protecting their “first amendment rights”—and they did it for payments in-kind. Leaked tobacco documents in the 1990s exposed the ACLU working out explicit deals with the tobacco industry to take their money in exchange for advocating their interests in public, without disclosing that gross conflict of interest and violation of the public trust. The documents and memos revealed that the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to the ACLU by the tobacco companies were payments in kind to for the ACLU’s defense of Big Tobacco, a relationship that both parties tried to hide in order to confuse the public into believing that the ACLU’s arguments for tobacco were motivated by purely altruistic constitutional arguments, rather than sleazy under-the-table cash payments. The ACLU is, after all, a trusted institution among progressives—that made them the ideal “Third Party Advocate” in PR terms for the tobacco industry’s interests.
One of the best accounts of the ACLU’s sleazy relationship with big tobacco comes from former Washington Post investigative reporter Morton Mintz, in his piece, “The ACLU and the Tobacco Companies,” published in Harvard University’s Nieman Reports. Mintz reported how the ACLU laundered the tobacco lobby’s money as supposedly charity money to fight for workplace rights. This abuse of public trust so outraged former ACLU legal director, Melvin Wulf, that he publicly denounced the ACLU’s rationalization as a “sham” — the ACLU worked with tobacco to fight against second-hand smoke laws, the very opposite of “workplace rights”:
“The justification that the money is used to support workplace rights is a sham. There is no constitutional right to pollute the atmosphere and threaten the health of others. The revelations…support the conclusion that the ACLU’s mission is being corrupted by the attraction of easy money from an industry whose ethical values are themselves notoriously corrupt and which is responsible for the death annually of 350,000 to 400,000 persons in the U.S. alone.”
So it should come as no surprise that on the ACLU’s website, on the page marked “Key Issues”— labor does not appear. Not among the 14 categories of ACLU “Key Issues” — which include “HIV/AIDS”, “LGBT Rights”, “Technology and Liberty” and “Women’s Rights”. Not even among the 90 sub-categories of “Key Issues” is there a single mention of “labor rights.”
Everything under the civil liberties sun but labor rights and economic/social equality are named as ACLU “key issues.” Among the 90 sub-categories: “Marijuana Law Reform”, “Flag Desecration”, “LGBT Parenting”, “Medical Care in Prison” and “Mental Care In Prison” [separate sub-categories], “Biological Technologies”, “Internet Privacy”, and “Sex Education.” All of these certainly qualify as key issues to progressives; but the list of categories, 114 in all, without a single mention of labor unions, let alone economic equality or even the very word “equality”—provides a grim and shameful picture of a left stripped of labor, stripped of economic egalitarianism. It is not a left at all: It is, alas, libertarianism. The left was born of labor struggles and the fight against oligarchy and for egalitarianism, economic justice and equality. Now there isn’t even a memory of that.