Anti-union organizations in the United States

Anti-union organizations in the United States

In the United States shortly after 1900, there were just a few effective employers' organizations that opposed the union movement. By 1903, these organizations started to coalesce, and a national employers' movement began to exert a powerful influence on industrial relations and public affairs.[1]

For nearly a decade prior to 1903, an industrial union called the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) had been increasing in power, militancy, and radicalism as a response to dangerous working conditions, employer-employee inequality, the imposition of long hours of work, and what members perceived as an imperious attitude on the part of employers. In particular, members of the WFM had been outraged by employers' widespread use of labor spies in organizing efforts such as Coeur d'Alene. The miners' frustrations had occasionally exploded in anger and violence. But they had also tried peaceful change, and found that route impossible. For example, after winning a referendum vote for the eight hour day with support from 72 percent of Colorado's electorate, the WFM's goal of an eight hour law was still defeated by employers and politicians.[2]

In 1901, angry WFM members passed a convention proclamation that a "complete revolution of social and economic conditions" was "the only salvation of the working classes."[3] To employers the statement seemed tantamount to a declaration of war. Colorado employers and their supporters reacted to growing union restlessness and power in a confrontation that came to be called the Colorado Labor Wars.[4]

But fear and apprehension on the part of employers, who felt unions were threatening to their businesses, were by no means limited to Colorado. Across the nation, the first elements of a network of employers' organizations that would span the coming century were just beginning to arise.


Associated Builders and Contractors

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)[5] is the construction industry's voice with the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the federal government and with state and local governments, as well as with the news media. It is a national association representing 25,000 merit shop construction and construction-related firms in 79 chapters across the United States. ABC's membership represents all specialties within the U.S. construction industry and is composed primarily of firms that perform work in the industrial and commercial sectors of the industry. ABC was funded chiefly by non-union builders and related businesses and promoted the "merit shop" which sought to pay each employee according to his qualification and performance.[6]

Center for Union Facts

The Center for Union Facts is an anti-union group launched by Richard Berman, the executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a food industry lobby group. The group has spent millions of dollars on advertising campaigns, including advertisements featuring actors playing workers stating what they 'love' about unions, like paying dues, union leaders' "fat-cat lifestyles", and discrimination against minorities.

The Center for Union Facts maintains an anti-union website that provides financial and other records about unions.

Citizens' Alliance

The Citizens' Alliance was an employers' organization formed early in the 1900s specifically to fight trade unions. David M. Parry was one of the founding members, which began in 1903 in Minneapolis. The Citizens Alliance represented smaller sections of business, but working with the NAM helped to strengthen anti-union movements in the early 20th Century in the United States. The Citizens' Alliance was particularly active in the western United States and involved in strike breaking and the formation of militias to fight unions.[7]

Council for Union Free Environment

In 1977 the NAM created the Council on Union Free Environment (CUE) with the specific mission of defeating President Carter's labor law reform bill that was designed to make union-organizing efforts more successful by, among other provisions, allowing for elections to occur within 15 days of filing a petition.[8] However, the National Right to Work Committee and employers were successful in blocking this bill."[8]

The Council on a Union Free Environment continued its anti-union work, focusing on disseminating the portrayal of union leaders as arrogant, incompetent, and criminal, lobbying against other legislation favorable to labor unions, lobbying for laws to make organizing more difficult; reducing unions' power and, teaching business leaders how to avoid union conflict.[8]

CUE currently claims 300 member companies, with and without unions, covering small to large firms.[9]

Labor Law Study Group

The Labor Law Study Group, later called the Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable, claimed to represent 1,100 businesses in 1973. The Roundtable introduced dozens of labor law reform bills in the U.S. Congress, but their primary focus was repealing state and federal laws that established minimum wage standards on publicly funded projects. The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 requires payment of wage rates and fringe benefits prevailing in a local area, on any federally financed contract. This pay rate generally amounts to "union scale." The Roundtable has called for the repeal of Davis-Bacon.[10]

National Association of Manufacturers

In April 1903, David M. Parry spoke to the annual convention of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).[11] He delivered a speech critical of organized labor, asserting that trade unionism and socialism differ only in method, with both aiming to deny "individual and property rights". Parry asserted the natural laws which governed the nation's economy, and he decried any interference with those laws, whether by legislative or other means. Parry asserted that the goals of the unions would inevitably lead to "despotism, tyranny, and slavery", and the "ruin of civilization."[12]

Parry declared that union members were "men of muscle rather than men of intelligence", that they were mere puppets who must depend upon the "brains of others for guidance." He stated that the AFL was a breeding place for "boycotters, picketers, and socialists", and that unions denied individual workers the right to sell their labor as they saw fit. Union leaders preached "hatred of wealth and ability", he claimed. In his opinion, organized labor knows but "one law, and that is the law of physical force—the law of the Huns and the Vandals, the law of the savage."[13]

To control this threat to the status quo, Parry advised that the NAM begin organizing employers and manufacturers' associations into a great national anti-union federation. The NAM convention agreed to the recommendation, and created an employers' organizing committee with Parry in charge. Parry began the organizing effort at once.[14]

The prospect of a federal eight hour law was particularly objectionable to the NAM, which declared it a "vicious, needless, and in every way preposterous proposition."[15]

The NAM has fought against organized labor for more than a century through obliquely named affiliated organizations.[8] However, the organization once sought to moderate its image. After the 1937 La Follette Committee investigated employers and their anti-union allies, uncovering widespread abuses, the NAM denounced "the use of espionage, strikebreaking agencies, professional strikebreakers, armed guards, or munitions for the purpose of interfering with or destroying the legitimate rights of labor to self organization and collective bargaining."[16] The brief nod to union rights didn't last. In the late 1970s the NAM "was so confident in the appeal of its anti-union position that it no longer bothered to hide behind the euphemisms."

National Legal and Policy Center

NLPC[17] makes a case for the end of the use of compulsory union dues for political purposes by exposing abuses in political and organizing activities. Since 1997, NLPC has become a high-profile source for information on union corruption. Every two weeks, NLPC distributes a newsletter entitled Union Corruption Update which has been both criticized and referenced in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and National Journal.

National Right to Work Committee

Since 1955 in the U.S., the National Right to Work Committee has lobbied for laws prohibiting compulsory union membership in union-organized shops. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation,[18] established in 1968, was established as a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees "whose human or civil rights have been violated by abuses of compulsory unionism". In the 1970s the National Right to Work Committee began forming state organizations intent on passing right-to-work laws. Some state organizations hid their affiliations, for the national organization was widely considered by union supporters and others a "rabidly anti-union lobby."[6] The National Right to Work Committee rejects the "anti union" label, pointing out that the freedom to choose whether to pay union dues is "neither 'anti-union' nor 'pro-union.'" [19]

Pinkerton Agency

The Pinkerton Agency is a private military, security, and spy agency founded in 1850 in the United States, and was used extensively by those who wished to break strikes or infiltrate unions to destroy them from within.[20] "Big" Bill Haywood, one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World, said of Pinkerton's detectives:

'A detective is the lowest, meanest and most contemptible thing that either creeps or crawls, a thing to loathe and despise. [...] That you may know how small a detective is, you can take a hair and punch the pith out of it and in the hollow hair you can put the hearts and souls of 40,000 detectives and they will still rattle. You can pour them out on the surface of your thumbnail and the skin of a gnat will make an umbrella for them.
'When a detective dies, he goes so low that he has to climb a ladder to get into Hell — and he is not a welcome guest there. When his Satanic Majesty sees him coming, he says to his imps, "Go get a big bucket of pitch and a lot of sulphur, give them to that fellow and put him outside. Let him start a Hell of his own. We don't want him in here, starting trouble."'

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world's largest business federation representing 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations. More than 96% of U.S. Chamber members are small businesses with 100 employees or fewer. As the voice of business, the Chamber's core purpose is to fight for free enterprise before Congress, the White House, regulatory agencies, the courts, the court of public opinion, and governments around the world and has actively lobbied against the Employee Free Choice Act.[21]

It should be noted, however, that local Chambers of Commerce are not required to share the views of the national Chamber on all issues. For example, in 2008 the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce in Denver, Colorado opposed an anti-union amendment which would have introduced right to work language into the Colorado Constitution. The Denver Metro Chamber opposed the initiative because, in their view, right-to-work states “do not perform significantly better in wages, economic development or business growth than Colorado.” Although several other Chambers of Commerce throughout Colorado supported the amendment, the measure was defeated by Colorado voters.[22]

See also

Syndicalism.svg Organized labour portal
  • Anti-union violence
  • History of union busting in the United States
  • Union Organizer
  • Union threat model
  • Salt (union organizing)


  1. ^ Colorado's War on Militant Unionism, James H. Peabody and the Western Federation of Miners, George G. Suggs, Jr., 1972, page 65-66.
  2. ^ Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble, 1997, pages 218-220, page 368.
  3. ^ All That Glitters—Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek, Elizabeth Jameson, 1998, page 179.
  4. ^ Colorado's War on Militant Unionism, James H. Peabody and the Western Federation of Miners, George G. Suggs, Jr., 1972, page 65.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, page 146.
  7. ^ A Union Against Unions: The Minneapolis Citizens Alliance and Its Fight Against Organized Labor, William Millikan, 2001.
  8. ^ a b c d Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, pages 146-147.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, pages 144-145.
  11. ^ National Association of Manufacturers website)
  12. ^ Colorado's War on Militant Unionism, James H. Peabody and the Western Federation of Miners, George G. Suggs, Jr., 1972, page 66-67. Emphasis added.
  13. ^ Colorado's War on Militant Unionism, James H. Peabody and the Western Federation of Miners, George G. Suggs, Jr., 1972, page 66.
  14. ^ Colorado's War on Militant Unionism, James H. Peabody and the Western Federation of Miners, George G. Suggs, Jr., 1972, page 66-67.
  15. ^ A Union Against Unions: The Minneapolis Citizens Alliance and Its Fight Against Organized Labor, William Millikan, 2001, page 31.
  16. ^ From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 96.
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 88.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Peter Marcus, DDN Staff Writer, Denver Daily News, Friday, June 13, 2008, retrieved November 15, 2010

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