- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 8, 2006

Few things would be as damaging to the U.S. economy over the long term as letting activist groups in other nations set business policies for major U.S. corporations. Yet, this is exactly what the ultra-liberal, Netherlands-based Clean Clothes Campaign is attempting to do.

The Clean Clothes Campaign is a radical left-wing European group with an agenda that centers on forcing labor unions on a range of employers who operate plants in developing nations. And, it tries to do this by exploiting the sentiments of naive U.S. consumers who can be convinced not to shop with particular retailers on a whim. Essentially, the Clean Clothes Campaign threatens boycotts against companies that refuse to accede to its demands to force workers to unionize.

Let’s cut right to the nuts and bolts of this problem — a major U.S. manufacturer based in New York has opened a plant in Turkey. One reason it chose Turkey is that the work force is educated, capable and not interested in joining the garment industry labor unions that have significantly hastened the demise of textile manufacturing in the United States.

In addition, this move is good for Turkey. It is one of the few Islamic nations that has managed to create a stable, secular government with a reasonably good human rights record. It clearly is in America’s interests to foster development there. And part of fostering economic development involves letting Turkish workers decide whether they want to unionize. So far, their answer has been a resounding “no” despite relentless meddling from groups like the Clean Clothes Campaign.

In fact, of 500 workers at the plant targeted by the Clean Clothes Campaign, a grand total of eight voted for unionization in the most recent organizing drive by pro-union groups. The reason? Workers at the plant have great benefits, much higher than average salaries and safe working conditions. Those workers apparently — and understandably — are not interested in seeing their paychecks and hard work siphoned off to pay for union bureaucrats to sit in air-conditioned offices and make long-distance calls to international left-wing groups.

Not happy at having their unionization demand rejected by the workers themselves, these groups are moving to force the employing corporations to create unions for their workers. Yes, you heard right: Some Dutch liberals have decided a U.S. firm should require its workers to join a labor union though they do not wish to do so.

It is important to remember this issue is separate and distinct from, and has nothing to do with, any human rights concerns. No credible evidence of abuses in any such areas as child labor or worker safety has been alleged at the Turkey plant. In fact, even the communications sent out by the Clean Clothes Campaign make no human rights demands, but instead focus on forcing the U.S. manufacturer to hire a handful of specific workers and begin binding negotiations with a union that has not been lawfully elected to represent the workers.

If human rights are a ruse, what is the real issue here? Simply put, survival of Big Labor is at stake. The union bosses in America have seen their ranks steadily shrink as years of unreasonable demands to work less and earn more have forced employer after employer to shut down domestic manufacturing plants — particularly in the textile industry. This leaves labor union leaders with no choice but to expand abroad to maintain their customary lifestyles.

To do this, big labor is trying to organize a campaign to leverage easily duped or intentionally corrupted “human rights” groups to smear the reputations of manufacturers in developing nations who refuse to cave in to forced unionization demands. The basic goal is to make an example of a few manufacturers by creating a PR nightmare. Like Jesse Jackson and other political extortion artists, these groups hope to then get what they want from numerous other targets who will pay them off to avoid having to keep dealing with them.

A major target in such efforts is the fashion industry. These left-wing international groups believe companies like Nike, Levi Strauss and the Gap represent vulnerable targets because they are large, visible and keenly affected by market forces, including negative publicity. Moreover, their corporate leaders have shown themselves susceptible to intimidation, and their sales can be quickly affected by a couple of clueless celebrities making asinine claims about nonexistent human rights issues at their plants and those of their suppliers.

In fact, the Clean Clothes Campaign is a great deal more interested in growing big labor than protecting anyone’s human rights. Take some time to look over their Web site as I did, and you’ll find — buried beneath layers of European bureaucratese — the bottom line is always the same: Employers must either accept unionization or endure PR attacks.

If groups like the Clean Clothes Campaign disagree with decisions by workers in other countries not to unionize, they should take it up with the workers themselves. Of course, if they play fair, they lose. So, they try international corporate blackmail.

It’s one thing for the Dutch to practice euthanasia, legalize same-sex “marriage” and make mind-altering drugs and prostitution lawful in their own country. But when they start exporting labor extortion to our shores in an effort to harm American corporations, they’ve raised the stakes to a whole new level. Congress and the administration need to nip this disturbing trend in the bud.

Bob Barr is a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia and a former U.S. Attorney there.

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