Thursday, April 11, 2013

Truman, Thatcher and Right to Work - A Legacy of Political Resolve

So much has been written about the late, great Margaret Thatcher this week that if you found this blog post via a search engine, I applaud your diligence! (and good evening to my regular readers). It's hard to encapsulate Thatcher's legacy in a single blog post, but here's one ex-pat Brit's attempt to write something new:

Before we get to The Grocer's Daughter, let's look in on 1945. In April of that year, Harry Truman, who had Vice President for just 82 days, took FDR's place in the White House. When he asked a grieving Eleanor Roosevelt if he could help in any way, she told him “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."

How right she was. Though Truman faced Communist expansionism abroad and made the tough decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan, he had a host of problems at home. The doubts of the liberals who doubted his commitment to the progressive cause, threats of the Southern Democrats who despised his pro-civil rights stance and look-down-the-nose derision of the FDR loyalists who thought him an uneducated commoner were the least of them.

At the top of the list was labor unrest. Once the war was over, the AFL, CIO, UMW and other big unions wanted payback for their wartime efforts and for frozen wage increases. Their foils, the titans of industry, refused to meet these demands, and so the picketing began. Steel workers, miners, auto workers and more refused to man their posts, and all told 28.5 million work days were lost, the highest total in US history.

Truman called in A.F. Whitney, chief of the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen, and Alvanley Johnston, head of the largest railway engineers' union, insisted that they put a stop to the strikes. They refused. "All right," the President told them. "I'm going to give you the gun."

And he did. Though Truman's negotiators brokered a settlement while he was at the podium, Truman told a joint session that he wanted power to draft the striking trainmen into the US Army. They'd have to obey their Commander in Chief, he reasoned. Though Truman later healed his rift with most union leaders and secured crucial labor backing to fuel his unlikely 1948 election win, he would not be held hostage by union chiefs, even when his opposition risked their wrath.

Fast forward to the late 1970s. Now it was Britain that was at the mercy of the trade unions, which provided funds for the ruling Labour Party and so had carte blanche at 10 Downing Street during the shaky Labour tenure of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. Unlike Truman, these two men lacked the fortitude to say "no" to their backers, and so the Communist-influenced unions got exactly what they wanted.

Until Maggie. When she took over from Callaghan in May 1979, the union chiefs must have thought it'd be business as usual, even though she was a Conservative instead of a leftist puppet. When it became clear that the new Prime Minister wouldn't be intimidated by threats, the National Mine Workers strikes started, led by the fiery Marxist Arthur Scargill, who was determined to destroy Thatcher's government as his organization had Edward Heath's Tory administration in 1974.

But they underestimated the grit of the Iron Lady. She told the Conservative Party's 1922 Committee during the peak of 1984-1985 strikes: "We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty."

Despite the difficulty and danger of the situation, during which strikers battled riot police and Scargill disgraced his movement by failing to bring the Government's settlement offer before his workers (see this brilliant book), Thatcher prevailed. The type of strike that saw unions punish industrial suppliers was banned and the striking workers failed to bring the nation to its knees. Which was Scargill's aim all along. In the ensuing years, the British economy awakened from its late-70's slumber and ceased to be "sick man of Europe" (or, indeed, woman!).

And who is carrying the leadership torch of Truman and Thatcher today? None other than the bold state governors of the United States. Recognizing that people like Scargill and current UAW president Bob King are not defenders of workers' rights but rather the living embodiment of the "some are more equal than others" mentality of the ruling elite in Orwell's Animal Farm, Rick Snyder, Mitch Daniels and the governors of 22 other states have passed "right to work" legislation. Combined with bold tax cuts, such as those recently passed by Kansas governor Sam Brownback, such moves are spurring economic growth that's impossible in union-dominated states. No wonder so many people are relocating to low-tax areas.

For the good of taxpayers and business alike, unions cannot be allowed to hold the whip hand. To prevent this, the US President, British Prime Minister and American governors should channel the resolve, determination and courage of the grocer's daughter and the farmer's son: a Conservative and a Democrat who strode boldly where others feared to tread.

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