Linda Chavez-Thompson is the AFL-CIO‘s Executive Vice President, third in command of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations after its President John Sweeney and Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka. She is also Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, which controls the Democratic Party.
Chavez-Thompson was born in Lubbock, Texas in August 1944, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants. Her sharecropper parents had eight children. At age 10, she began picking cotton during summers for 30 cents per hour. She dropped out of school in 9th Grade, the end of her formal education, to do field work full time. At age 19, she wed city employee Robert Thompson.
In 1967 Chavez-Thompson became a bilingual secretary for the Laborers’ International Union. In 1971 took she a similar job for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in Austin; she moved to San Antonio’s AFSCME office two years later and rose to prominence within this government employee union.
In 1986 Chavez-Thompson was elected national Vice President of the AFL-CIO’s Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, a position she would hold until 1996. In 1988 AFSCME appointed her Vice President over a seven-state region, to direct the union’s efforts in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas. She was named Vice President of the AFL-CIO in August 1993.
In 1995 Chavez-Thompson was one-third of a troika elected to head the AFL-CIO. One of her running mates for election was John Sweeney, head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The third member of the triumvirate was Richard Trumka, head of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).
This threesome called itself the “New Voice” and pledged to replace the policies of moderate AFL-CIO leaders. With government workers now the fastest-growing segment of a shrinking organized labor movement, Chavez-Thompson and Sweeney represented a turn away from blue-collar industrial unionism and the AFL-CIO’s traditional emphasis on raising wages and improving working conditions. That old path had succeeded too well, boosting union member wages so high that many union members began voting Republican and complaining about taxes and big government.
“Forty percent of our members vote Republican or have voted Republican in the past,” Chavez-Thompson told the Houston Chronicle in July 2004. “We want to target any of these members….”
Despite 40 percent of its union members voting Republican, the AFL-CIO has relentlessly opposed letting rank-and-file workers choose whether or where a portion of their union dues gets spent for political candidates. The AFL-CIO allocated $44 million to support candidates in the 2004 election cycle, with perhaps 95 percent or more of this money going to Democrats.
Chavez-Thompson sits on the highest ruling council of both the AFL-CIO and the Democratic National Committee. In effect, she can take money from a union worker’s paycheck (regardless of that worker’s political leanings) and transfer that money to the Democratic Party.
Unions have for decades been the biggest source of Democratic campaign cash, the lifeblood that has kept this political party alive. As Linda Chavez (no relation) and Daniel Gray observed in their 2004 book Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics, Democrats, when they were America’s ruling party, enacted laws that give unions many exceptional powers, including the ability to conceal from their own members an accounting of where and how much of their dues money a union spends on politics. A member can request the return of that portion of mandatory union dues used for politics, but few do. Two reasons are: (a) by making such a request, a union member risks singling himself out for reprisal by union bosses; and (b) because union bookkeeping is largely secret, those making such requests have gotten almost nothing back from their dues — in one case documented by Chavez and Gray, 18 cents.
The new unionism focuses not on factory workers but on government workers who benefit from higher taxes and bigger government, and who therefore implicitly support socialism and America’s pro-big government Democratic Party. (Government workers can demand higher pay and perks without fear that their jobs will be exported to Mexico or India.)
Like her two partners in this leadership troika, Chavez-Thompson encourages labor alliances with media, government and radical activists to intimidate companies by threatening a “death of a thousand cuts” that targets a company’s investors, public image, relations with government regulators and more.
Like her fellow triumvirs, Chavez-Thompson favors radical approaches to resuscitate a dying labor movement. One of their first projects after winning election was “Union Summer,” an effort “to recruit and train hundreds of young people as organizers and political activists,” wrote University of Pittsburgh labor economist Michael Yates.
The apparent agenda of “New Voice” leaders Chavez-Thompson, Sweeney and Trumka is to promote “class-based organizing.” Research, according to Yates, shows that “those unions which mobilize rank-and-file workers around a program of aggressive solidarity and conflict with their employers have the best chance of winning union elections, bargaining good contracts, and resisting decertification.”
Class warfare, in other words, is back in style with this trio of labor leaders. The capitalist is the enemy; big government is the ally. Among workers’ weapons are confiscatory taxation and all-pervasive government regulatory control; i.e., the policies of the Democratic Party to transfer more and more private wealth and power to the government.
The “Union Summer” indoctrination materials use explicit class-warfare rhetoric. Young participants are told to recite a pledge called “Working Class Commitment” that includes the Marxist dogma “that we produce the world’s wealth, that we belong to the only class with a future, that our class will end all oppression.” Union Summer, Chavez-Thompson has said, “has injected powerful new energy into all aspects of labor’s struggles and at the same time has given new hope to young people across the country.”
Among her role models, Chavez-Thompson describes as “a perfect example” Mother Jones, a radical labor organizer and socialist of a century ago. For socialists, the day that government expropriates the means of production will be the utopian dawn of all workers becoming government employees — and hence members of mandatory public employee unions like SEIU and AFSCME, Chavez-Thompson’s union.
Unlike their more moderate predecessors, Chavez-Thompson and her fellow AFL-CIO bosses see free-market capitalism not as essential to worker prosperity but as something to be despised and destroyed. “Union Summer” is one way to teach and spread ideological hatred of capitalism, as well as love for “progressive” government, throughout the union movement. Their ultimate aim is not to boost their members’ wages, but to radically transform society. As Sweeney wrote in his 1996 book America Needs a Raise, they see themselves building not only a labor movement but also a “social movement.”
Chavez-Thompson has said she favors “progressive taxation” heavy enough to erase the present “kind of inequality” between rich and poor in America. The populists who advocated this kind of confiscatory taxation on the rich “were right on target,” said Chavez-Thompson. Two other advocates for this kind of steep progressive taxation were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the Communist Manifesto, who proposed it as one of 10 ways to destroy capitalism.
In September 1997 Chavez-Thompson, Sweeney and Trumka rescinded a provision in the AFL-CIO constitution that banned Communist Party members from the labor federation. The “New Voice” triumvirate now welcomed Communist Party delegates to positions of power in the Federation. And the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) declared itself “in complete accord” with the troika’s new AFL-CIO program.
“The radical shift in both leadership and policy is a very positive, even historic change,” wrote CPUSA National Chairman Gus Hall in 1996 about the Chavez-Thompson/Sweeney/Trumka takeover.
“All the people we thought we got rid of 40 years ago are back in there,” sociologist Joel Kotkin quotes a Detroit-area labor lawyer saying about the radical reorientation of the AFL-CIO. “It’s like the 1930s all over again.”
And while inviting Communists into the AFL-CIO by the front door, wrote leftwing labor scholar Michael Yates, Chavez-Thompson, Sweeney and Trumka were throwing the organization’s anti-Communists out the back door. The triumvirs, said Yates, conducted a purge “to dismantle the Federation’s thoroughly reactionary International Affairs Department and put the old cold warriors out to pasture…. These actions will provide breathing room for radical labor educators to openly address formerly verboten subjects.”
Marxist scholars have speculated that Americans show little enthusiasm for Communist revolution because the United States, with its social mobility and trickle-down wealth, lacks a genuine proletariat class of poor workers who believe they “have nothing to lose but their chains.” One cure for this, some Marxists have suggested, is that such a proletariat could be “imported” by encouraging poor people to emigrate from nations such as Mexico.
Chavez-Thompson plays a key role in the AFL-CIO’s outreach to Hispanic immigrants, as she has in shaping the union’s policy to recruit and radicalize large numbers of poor Spanish-speaking workers.
“We want to defend their rights as workers, no matter what their legal status,” said Chavez-Thompson in a February 2000 CNN interview, “whether they’re documented or undocumented.”
Chavez-Thompson’s new “Union Card as Green Card” advocacy, as Lloyd Billingsley of the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco observed in August 2000, reflects a huge political and strategic shift by the AFL-CIO. Organized labor lobbied to create the 1986 Federal law that made it a crime to hire illegal aliens, fearful that such immigrant labor was competing with and driving down the income of union workers. But in February 2000 the AFL-CIO’s executive council reversed policy and urged repeal of the 1986 law.
“The AFL[-CIO] has made a Faustian bargain,” wrote sociologist Joel Kotkin of Pepperdine University. “In order to grow they need to include these low-paid workers. These people don’t have much in the way of dues. The AFL[-CIO] is buying quantity at the expense of quality.”
As a result, wrote Kotkin, the AFL-CIO is dividing the labor movement between middle-class high-tech unions, such as aerospace workers, and radical service unions like the SEIU from which John Sweeney came, the biggest and perhaps most radical union in the AFL-CIO. Unions largely comprised of government employees such as Chavez-Thompson’s AFSCME and Sweeney’s SEIU, noted the executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) Dan Stein, would benefit from a “larger ‘clientele’ of poor immigrants” that increases the demand for taxpayer-funded government services.
By putting its political muscle on the side of such immigration, legal and illegal, the AFL-CIO with Chavez-Thompson’s guidance is encouraging the emigration of a low-paid proletariat that will look to unions for protection, help and political guidance. These are ground troops who can be used against future political targets by both organized labor and its leftwing activist comrades. One union poster, wrote Billingsley, proclaimed: “Immigrants are not the root cause of the U.S.’s problems. The Free Market System is.”
“I love being the kingmaker,” Chavez-Thompson told the liberal Seattle Press-Intelligencer in 2003. “I don’t like being the king.”
But four years earlier in a speech at Colorado College in Colorado Springs she floated a semi-serious trial balloon that, if enough people liked the idea, “I’m a candidate for the White House in the elections of 2008.” The 5’1″ labor boss continued: “I think it’s time that the little people have a voice in running America.