AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka charged Thursday that if Republican political star Sarah Palin is not more careful in her choice of words, the political movement she has helped to create will be linked with McCarthyism, the 1950s-era crusade by Sen. Joseph McCarthy to brand political enemies as communists.
Mr. Trumka’s comments about his strained relations with Ms. Palin came at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters, where he was asked how his previous critical words about the 2008 GOP vice-presidential nominee squared with his call for union members to save their anger for “corporate lapdogs” and Senate Republicans.
The comments were “totally consistent,” Trumka said. “She has taken on a position of leadership, and whether it is rightfully given to her or not, she is there. And so she can’t use loose language that foments … changing that anger to hatred or that action to violence.” He continued, “If she doesn’t change her ways, then Palinism will be equated with other forms of McCarthyism that fomented division among the populace and acts of hatred among the populace.”
The union leader’s comments Thursday are a sequel to a battle of words between the two figures last week. In a speech in Anchorage, Alaska. on Aug. 26, Trumka said Palin will “go down in history like McCarthy.” He criticized her for what he sees as incendiary rhetoric, including her use of the phrase “don’t retreat ... reload” and a reference she made to “union thugs.”
Palin, Alaska's former governor, responded to Trumka’s comments last week on her Facebook page. She noted that her husband is a proud former union member. Addressing his criticism of her language, Palin said, “It’s kind of ironic that a union boss has the gall to accuse anyone of threatening violence. After all, we remember the violent attempts by [the Service Employees International Union] to intimidate those who wanted to make their voices heard in last year’s town halls. And unlike Trumka, I never threatened that any effort to break a picket line would lead to violence.”
Palin added, “I never called union members 'thugs.' You lie. I called some union leaders 'thugs.' And I refuse to apologize for that because they have acted like thugs – at least in this day and age.”
Mr. Trumka began his Palin-related comments Thursday morning with a response to Palin calling him “a career union boss who’s spent most of his life in DC.” He quipped, “I spent more time in the mine than she did as governor…. I served a whole term there, as a matter of fact.” He later said he spent seven years working in coal mines before climbing the ladder to become president of the United Mine Workers of America. Palin resigned as governor of Alaska with 18 months remaining in her four-year term.
Trumka said his concern was “that there is a danger that the anger and the frustration that people are feeling will get turned into rage, hatred, and ultimately violence.”
The war of words is part of a battle for the hearts and minds of working Americans. Trumka is seeking to expand the influence of the union movement that he heads. According to the latest US Labor Department statistics, in 2009 some 12.3 percent of wages and salary workers were unionized. That year, union membership fell by 771,000 to 15.3 million. When the government began tracking union membership in 1983, there were 17.7 million unionized workers who made up 20.1 percent of the wage-and-salaried workers in the country.
Palin’s call to union workers on her Facebook page was clear. “Today’s unions seem to be big government’s most enthusiastic supporters,” she said, adding “you don’t have to put up with the scare tactics and the big government agenda of the union bosses. There is a different home for you: the common sense conservative movement.”