THE BLOG
07/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

RNC's Michael Steele Becomes Union Man

Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele appears to be suffering philosophical identity confusion, you know, like some people experience sexual identity confusion.

He's got an organization named United STEELE Workers Union, white hardhat emblem and all, collecting members for him on Facebook. It had 255 worldwide as of June 19.

This is disconcerting on so many levels, least of which is that I head the original, authentic United Steelworkers Union (USW). It has, by the way, 1.2 million retired and active members in North America.

Far more importantly, Steele historically has expressed hostility toward unions. When President Obama agreed to help General Motors restructure in bankruptcy, for example, Steele said it was "another handout to the union cronies who helped bankroll his presidential campaign." Now that there's a union created in his own image, if Steele slams labor organizations, is he criticizing himself? Has he become a "union crony?"

Steele can perch that white hard hat atop his head, but he's going to have to labor at learning some hard philosophical lessons before becoming a real steelworker, a true union man.

A union brother or sister knows it's all for one and one for all. Our union brothers and sisters don't see themselves as "ownership society" islands. That's because they know when the sun stops shining, it's nice to have union siblings to help clean up after the hurricane.

To join, Steele must learn that a union man has his brother's back; he doesn't stab him in the back. This may be a tough lesson for the Republican. Consider, for example, what Mark Bergeron, the STEELE Worker Union Facebook group administrator, says on his blog about the party's 2008 nominee for president:

"How far to the left do we as Conservatives go to satisfy some of our Moderate ( Liberal ) Republicans? What sacrifices will we make to the Moderates? Abortion? Illegal Immigration [sic], a little more Socialism? Less Fiscal Responsibility? My point is that we have already made concessions to these softies and we got John McCain."

In addition to insulting McCain, that smacks of exclusion. It is the Republican Party wringing itself out, shedding diversity at the insistence of its most conservative, self-appointed, over-amplified leader, Rush Limbaugh. So it has been reduced to little more than wealthy white protestant males -- and wannabes. A union, by contrast, is a collective. By nature, then, it is inclusive. This may be a tough one for Steele to accept, considering he refused to stand up to Limbaugh earlier this year when the talk show host insisted he, not Steele, headed the Republican Party.

The STEELE Worker Union Facebook site says the group is interested in organizing. That's a great first step in the correct direction. An important function of an international union, like the United Steelworkers, is to help employees at individual workplaces organize their local unions. Those efforts in recent years, however, have been thwarted by corporate campaigns of intimidation against union organizers and sympathizers. This is documented in a study called, "No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organization," released in May by Cornell University professor, Kate Bronfenbrenner.

Bronfenbrenner, who has researched labor issues for a quarter century, documents employers obstructing unionization by firing union organizers, threatening to close down the shop, cutting wages and benefits, and forcing workers to meet one-on-one with supervisors who interrogate them to determine whether they support the union. Bronfenbrenner found employers conducted these coercive tactics, many of which are illegal, in the run-up to union elections more frequently than in the past to dissuade workers from voting for unionization.

The upshot is that organizers and union sympathizers risk their livelihoods and corporations are increasingly killing unions. The Employee Free Choice Act now before Congress would significantly reduce that. It would allow workers -- rather than the employer -- to decide how to form the union. It would give workers the right to choose whether to form their union by collecting signatures from a majority of the workers or by conducting a secret ballot election. The threat-filled period before balloting could be eliminated, if the workers wanted.

The United Steelworkers union actively and vociferously supports the Employee Free Choice Act. If Michael Steele wants to be a real union man, he must do so as well. I will be waiting to hear from him. If I do, I will be glad to take him under my wing and mentor him. I will make him an Associate Member of the real United Steelworkers union. We will embrace him. Of course, I will warn my male members to be careful not to actually hug him because this is a guy, so touchy about unions, that he even used the word "crazy" to describe civil unions.