All bark, no bite: Union protest fizzles outside conservative confab

OKLAHOMA CITY — For two weeks, free-market activists headed to their annual State Policy Network confab were haunted by rumors of a massive labor-backed rally.

But hoping to draw a crowd of hundreds, union organizers put forth tens.

Three tens, that is.

That’s the number of people – 30 – who showed up Wednesday evening near Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Center. They waved pro-labor signs, sang songs and told of the evils of thefree  marketplace and limited government. And after an hour, they departed.

The union bosses tried to wax optimistic, but that façade cracked quickly.

“I wish more people would’ve showed up, but our people work for a living,” said Tim O’Connor, state president of the AFL-CIO’s Oklahoma chapter.

It’s likely the poor showing reveals something larger. A once-strong movement has been relegated to life support, and the long-term prognosis doesn’t look good. Union membership continues to plummet, meaning lower dues and fewer foot soldiers to deploy in political campaigns – and rallies like this one. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, only 11.3 percent of American workers belonged to labor unions last year, down from 20.1 percent in 1983.

Indiana and Michigan, the home of the venerable United Auto Workers, have adopted right-to-work laws in the past three years, laws that allow workers to decide if they want to join unions. Several states, including Wisconsin, have enacted public-sector union reform measures that further weaken union influence on state government.

Free-market activists at the State Policy Network would be excused for their anxiety in the run-up to the annual gathering. As America evolves away from organized labor, unions continue the fight to keep the grip on power — and the efforts are usually chaotic and occasionally violent.

In December 2012, for example, union supporters dropped the tent of a conservative group at the Michigan Capitol building — tore it down with people still inside. The same day, one protester came to blows with a Fox News contributor. In Madison, Wisc., labor acolytes verbally accosted a Marine veteran who supported that state’s public-sector reforms.

Vinnie Vernuccio, director of labor policies for Michigan’s Makinac Center for Public Policy and an SPN member, is very familiar with organized labor’s tactics. Earlier this month, union protesters disrupted a speech he was delivering in Vancouver, Wash. Police arrested one protester who refused to leave the event. One spat on Vernuccio before leaving.

In Oklahoma City on Wednesday, Vernuccio wandered outside the convention center to observe, but kept his distance.

The union event again confirmed what he already knew. “Organized labor’s bark is worse than its bite,” he told

And bark the protesters did — about the evils of capitalism and the need for redistribution of wealth.

But that’s all it was. No violence, no vandalism, no arrests — and few attendees.

Perhaps the state’s labor unions just couldn’t muster enough strength and support for that.

“I’m not disappointed,” O’Connor said late Wednesday night. “There just wasn’t enough enthusiasm, but that just tells me I have more education to do.”

Hurst and Perry report for the network,
where this report first appeared.