The party crasher:
Six years ago, the Take Back America conference was just a meeting of a few dozen progressive activists held in a local office building, where they talked about how to voice their liberal views at a time of Republican domination in U.S. politics.
On Tuesday, the ranks of the conference’s attendees had swelled to more than 3,000 people from all over the country, enough to fill a sprawling hotel ballroom here and command a parade of the leading Democratic presidential candidates to seek their support.
Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows of the conference are mavericks such as Ralph Nader, some of whom grumble that the progressive movement isn’t being bold enough with its early moment in the sun.
To be sure, there was plenty of skepticism amid the activity. Nader questioned why ascendant progressives wouldn’t be more eager to take on powerful corporate interests.
Call for justice
“When you look at an agenda of a progressive conference like this, you ask questions like, ‘How much of it is focused on distributional economics, like making sure there’s aid to hungry children?'” Nader said. “‘And how much goes to challenging the power structure?’ A society that has more justice needs less charity.”
Crank, heal thyself:
During his presidential run in 2000, Nader laid out his view that union organizing is an important friction point between citizens and mega-corporations: “Employing union-busting consultants and motivated by an anything-goes, anti-union animus, employers regularly confront union-organizing campaigns with threats to close plants; harassment, intimidation, and firings of key union supporters; captive meetings; supervisor one-on-one meetings with fearful employees; threatening literature; use of surveillance technologies; and much more.” Nader also said, “Although it is illegal for employers to fire workers for supporting a union, approximately one in 10 union supporters in union-organizing drives are, in fact, fired.”
As it turns out, Nader as a nonprofit entrepreneur has had his own experience with union organizing — from the employer’s side. In one case, unhappy workers at Public Citizen were persuaded to drop their drive to hold a vote on affiliating with the United Auto Workers, and an in-house union was created that over the years won important benefits and worker protections for employees. But in another case, labor-management relations weren’t so smooth.
Amid a dispute with the staff of one of his flagship publications in 1984 over its editorial content and a bid by staff members to form a union, Nader responded with the same kind of tactics that he has elsewhere condemned: He fired the staff, changed the locks at the office, unsuccessfully tried to have one employee arrested, and hired permanent replacements.
When the fired workers appealed the action to federal authorities, Nader filed a countersuit. Applying a legal tactic that employers commonly use to resist union-organizing efforts, Nader claimed that the fired workers were trying to appropriate his business. Nader spurned efforts by other progressives to mediate the fight, and he refused an offer to settle the litigation by simply signing a declaration that his workers thenceforth would have the right to organize.
“I was shocked by how Ralph acted,” said John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, who tried to mediate the dispute. “He seemed unable to see how this conflicted with his ideals.” Cavanagh, who says he likes and respects Nader and supported his 2000 presidential run, said he was particularly surprised that Nader refused a dialogue on the dispute: “That’s not the way progressives are supposed to act.”
Fuck off, Ralph.