AFL-CIO blasts 'corporate mobs' at recess town hall meetings

The AFL-CIO has called on its union affiliates to defend lawmakers’ health care reform town hall meetings from “corporate…mob rule” in recent days.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney sent out a memo this week outlining a blue print for union members to counter the campaign of fear and intimidation in which hired thugs are infiltrating health care town hall meetings to heckle, disrupt and even physically assault health care reform advocates.

“We want your help to organize major unions to counter the right-wing ‘Tea Party patriots’ who will try to disrupt those meetings as they’ve been trying to do to meetings for the last month,” Sweeney wrote, adding, “Remember the hooligans, many of them Republican Congressional staff, who harassed Florida vote counters in 2000? We can’t let it happen again.”

AFL-CIO Vice President Rich Trumka added his own angry blast. The thugs infiltrating the town hall meetings of U.S. Senators and Representatives during the current Congressional recess are “corporate-funded mobs …sent by their corporate lobbyist bank rollers to disrupt.” He added, “Mob rule is not democracy. We call on the insurance companies, the lobbyists, and the Republican leaders who are cheering them on to halt these ‘Brooks Brothers’ riots. Health care is a crucial issue and everyone, on all sides, has the right to be heard.”

The memo also stresses that labor is fighting for real reform and will not accept a sell-out compromise. Reform legislation must include a “requirement that ALL employers pay or play” and must have “a robust public health insurance plan to compete with the private insurers and drive down health insurance costs.” The memo also promised that labor will “redouble our effort against taxation of benefits of any kind.”

The labor memo was a reaction against brazen tactics of fear and intimidation by a gang of paid thugs who are being bused to town hall meetings across the nation to disrupt and intimidate.

A group-let identified as “Patients First” a front for the lobbyist-funded Americans for Prosperity, hanged freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in effigy outside his office in Salisbury, Maryland, one day last week. The aim is to terrorize him from supporting health care reform with a “public option.” Kratovil has not yet announced his position.

Similarly, a goon squad surrounded freshman Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), jostling him and screaming epithets at him during a visit back to his home district. Police had to wade in and rescue him and hustle him into his office. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) another freshman, has cancelled all town hall meetings in his North Carolina district during the August recess after he received telephone death threats including a message, “Miller could lose his life over this.”

Extremists picketing a town hall meeting on health care reform in Hartford, Conn chanted that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn), should “commit suicide” as a “cure” for his recently diagnosed prostate cancer. Dodd is a leader in the Senate in fashioning health care legislation with a “public option.”

Democratic Rep. Brian Baird, who represents Vancouver, Washington, also canceled town hall meetings telling the local newspaper, “What we’re seeing right now is close to Brown Shirt tactics.” Instead, he is holding telephone town hall meetings with his constituents to answer their questions about health care reform.

Veteran Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who represents Austin, Texas, was “ambushed” while trying to hold “neighborhood office hours” at a Randalls grocery store in his district by goons screaming that he is supporting “socialized” medicine. The provocateurs brought with them a mock tombstone with the Texas lawmaker’s name on it. Doggett said in response, “This is not a grass-roots effort. This is a very coordinated effort where the local Republican Party, the local conservative meet-up groups sent people to disrupt my event.”

His charge gains credence from Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, who endorsed the bully-boy strategy. Sessions boasted that the days of civil town hall meetings is “over” and the disruptions will continue. His comments recalled the role of Rep. Tom “The Hammer” DeLay (R-TX) who recruited beefy staff members of Republican House members in December 2000 and sent them to Florida where they banged on the windows of local Election Boards where ballots were being counted, screaming that the vote count should stop.

Jacki Schechner, media spokesperson for the Health Care for America NOW (HCAN) told the PWW that members of the House and Senate went into their August recess with many planning to hold town hall meetings at home to engage in a “conversation” about health care reform. “But when someone hired by the insurance lobby stands up and starts screaming in a meeting, that is not a conversation. The purpose of that is to stop the conversation. They are stopping the democratic process, halting the opportunity of these lawmakers to talk to the people they represent. We can’t let fear win.”

The strategy for disrupting the town hall meetings was drawn up by a rabid ultra-right group calling itself “Right Principles.” They tried it out first on another freshman Democrat, Jim Himes (D-Conn), heckling him on the health care issue during a visit to his district. Send in infiltrators who “watch for opportunities to stand up and shout…rock the boat,” declares a “how-to” memo.