By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
March 29, 2011
Union busters have long relied on scare tactics to boost anti-worker legislation — fear, threats and intimidation are standard fare for politicians trying to weaken labor laws, and can be effective if they’re holding, say, your family’s food stamps over your head.
In one of the most recent examples of this, right-wing think tanks are going after universities and professors for emails that might mention anything regarding the mass protests across the Midwest. Yesterday, in a blog post republished on AlterNet, Steve D. talked about the case of William Cronon, a historian at the University of Wisconsin, who was targeted by the GOP for his emails in an effort to smear his reputation. ‘But more significantly,’ wrote Steven D., ‘by going after a hitherto unknown, renowned and reasonable moderate scholar they are attempting to intimidate anyone else in Academia or who works for any governmental body from expressing their opinions.’
Though it seemed Cronon might be an isolated case, it looks like the GOP is planning to use this tactic against more and more public institutions using Freedom of Information Act requests. Today, Talking Points Memo revealed that labor departments at Michigan universities have been targeted by The Mackinac Center for Public Policy — a right-wing think tank funded by those scions of union-busting, the Koch Brothers.
Even more absurd than professors targeted were the topics being sought in the FOIA request: ‘all electronic correspondence carried out to our from employees, contractors, etc. of the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center in which the following terms (or their derivatives) appear:
‘Scott Walker,’ ‘Wisconsin,’ ‘Madison,’ ‘Maddow,’ Any other emails that deal with the collective bargaining situation in Wisconsin.’
The FOIA then goes on to request the information free of charge as it is a ‘non-partisan, non-profit research and educational institute,’ but the fact that Mackinac is seeking emails about Rachel Maddow is a dead giveaway. When TPM called the Mackinac Center’s managing editor, Ken Braun, he declined to comment on the nature of the FOIA.
The targeted University of Michigan’s Labor Studies Center ‘has developed educational offerings to address the issues arising between management and labor’ since 1957, according to its mission statement, with an emphasis on peer training for women and minorities. It also ‘focus[es] on the self-defined needs of particular subsections of the population (women workers, Latina/o and African American workers) who are often underrepresented and without adequate access to labor issues education’ and trains them in issues such as basic union skills and organizing.
In other words — exactly the kind of thing the union-busting GOP is not trying to see succeed.
Roland Zullo, a professor at the Labor Studies Center, told Talking Points Memo he thought the Mackinac Center was looking for any illegal political advocacy on the state’s watch. “It sounds like they’re trying to catch us advocating for the recall or the election of a politician,” Zullo said. “Because we’re not supposed to do that, we’re not supposed to use our University of Michigan resources for something like that.”
And, in turn, we hope the University of Michigan charges the GOP-funded Mackinac Center for its time.