As one of the leading spokesmen for Big Labor during the late 1970’s and the 1980’s, then-International Association of Machinists (IAM) union President William Winpisinger was extraordinary not so much because he was an unabashed socialist (after all, current AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was once honored by the Democratic Socialists of America with its annual Eugene Debs award), but because of his unapologetic championing of criminal violence and other lawbreaking as tactics.
In late summer 1978, for example, Winpisinger notoriously told Time magazine: “In my lifetime, no group has ever gotten justice in this country without lawlessness. So if we want to see change, then we may stop having to have such high regard for law and order.”
Winpisinger was also unusual in openly labeling business owners of all kinds, including small business people, as Big Labor’s enemy. In January 1978, the Washington Star quoted Winpisinger to this effect: “If Mr. and Mrs. Main Street America don’t want to stand up” for monopolistic unionism as authorized by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), “we will go back to 1934 and have it out on the sidewalks. And we are fully prepared to do that.”
A few months later, Fortune magazine cited Winpisinger reinforcing the point: “If need be, we’ll fight it out in the streets . . . ,” he said, to make the NLRA an even more effective tool for corralling employees into unions.
While many other top officers in the AFL-CIO, both then and now, have certainly shared Winpisinger’s goals, his harsh rhetorical style seems to have gone out of fashion among prominent Organized Labor partisans in recent decades. At least until quite recently.
But at an event sponsored by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations this month, Mark Gaston Pearce, the President Obama-appointed chairman of the powerful National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), seemed to be channeling Winpsinger at certain points in a speech commemorating the 80th anniversary of the NLRA, otherwise known as the Wagner Act.
Pearce did admit that he and the other four NLRB members are supposed to serve as “umpires” in labor-management relations. To the overwhelming majority of Americans who are remotely familiar with sports, this means that Pearce and his colleagues are supposed to enforce existing rules, not rewrite them whenever they see fit. But the chairman doesn’t see it that way. The “game” is “constantly changing,” he contended, and whenever it does, he implied, NLRB members should be able to overhaul the rules.
Pearce then suggested it is appropriate for proponents of compulsory unionism to engage in mass demonstrations that impede their fellow Americans from going about their normal business until their public policy demands are met. He proclaimed that his “vision is for the Act [NLRA] to be taken to the streets.” (See the link below for a brief account of Pearce’s speech.)
At least when William Winpisinger said it would be fine with him if the course of federal labor policy were hashed out “on the sidewalks” and “in the streets,” he was speaking as the head of a private organization, albeit a large and powerful one. It is quite disturbing that the current head of the federal agency that calls the shots regarding enforcement of the NLRA, which covers well over 90% of America’s private sector workplaces, is now saying more or less what Winpisinger did during the Carter Administration.