Clinton’s Anti-Union Rant

Labor Organizing

Bill ClintonMontreal It wasn’t a surprise that Halter lost against Senator Lincoln in the Arkansas Democratic primary the other day. He had been running a “come from behind” effort from the beginning against a well financed incumbent in a conservative southern state. His win was always unlikely when ballots were really cast. It certainly wasn’t a surprise when Lincoln ran hard against Washington, outside interests, and, particularly unions, since she had been clear that she was a Democrat in name only and a strident voice for farm and business interests over anything else, which is how she got in this fight in the first place.

In politics the rule has always been don’t slap the bear unless you are able to kill it, and in this case for those of us who have worked in Arkansas and care about its people and politics, a bad bear is now running hard and the setback for working people in the state will be a long time recovering. It’s not the first time though, and that brings up the huge disappointment of seeing former President and ex-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton once again riding the anti-union horse in Arkansas after having kept it in its stall back in the paddock in Hot Springs for decades.

As always, you know and I know, he knew better, but just couldn’t help himself given the crowd he keeps now in the high air of world leaders, big business, and philanthropy, where money is the only marker. Obama and Clinton supported Lincoln of course, but that doesn’t mean you have to wallow with the pigs in doing so.

Reading quotes by old friends like Ernie Dumas, the reportorial dean of Arkansas politics now, and Alan Hughes, who has led Arkansas labor for many years, made it impossible not to remember when Bill Clinton broke the hearts and for many decades the back of organized labor in Arkansas in the bitter contest to repeal the anti-union, so-called right-to-work law in the 1970’s. Bill Becker, Hughes successor, had set up the petition campaign to repeal right-to-work for years. He finally got the support from the national AFL-CIO and some of the international unions when he was able to say that he had locked down hard the commitment from Bill Clinton, then governor and running for re-election every two years, that he would not only support the repeal but campaign for repeal in his own contest. Everyone helped get the signatures and the measure made it to the ballot. It really looked like we had a shot, and then deep into the campaign, Clinton reneged on the tarmac of the small airport in Fort Smith, as Becker told me and many others the story many times, and said he just “couldn’t do it,” and at best would be neutral. Painfully the repeal effort lost, and Clinton’s desertion was a critical factor, if not the most important reason.

When Clinton ran for President, Becker couldn’t bit his tongue and was quoted everywhere about his view that Clinton was anti-labor and couldn’t be trusted. As Clinton emerged as the candidate, Becker was taken to the woodshed by the national AFL-CIO, and many speculated that the original support for Hughes to run against and then replace Becker was pushed by labor allies in DC, who were hopeful of getting on a new foot with a new President.

I had hoped Bill would do better and it was one of those things. It was sad to see him come into Arkansas and let himself be used in redneck, small town square ways about unions.

Becker from the grave would now be telling everyone again how he told us so!