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labor How Rightwing Groups Wield Secret 'Toolkit' to Plot Against U.S. Unions

Internal documents obtained by the Guardian reveal a nationwide drive to persuade union members to quit and stop paying dues.

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Tracie Sharp, CEO of the State Policy Network, says SPN seeks to "defund and defang" public employee unions, delivering a "mortal blow" to the American left., PR Watch

Rightwing activists are launching a nationwide drive to persuade public-sector trade union members to tear up their membership cards and stop paying dues, posing a direct threat to the progressive movement in America.

Documents obtained by the Guardian reveal that a network of radical conservative thinktanks spanning all 50 states is planning direct marketing campaigns targeted personally at union members to encourage them to quit. The secret push, the group hopes, could cost unions up to a fifth of their 7 million members, lead to the loss of millions of dollars in income and undermine a cornerstone of US progressive politics.

“Well run opt-out campaigns can cause public-sector unions to experience 5 to 20% declines in membership, costing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in dues money. This can affect the resources and attention available for union leaders to devote to political action campaigns,” the internal documents say.

he anti-union marketing drive is the brainchild of the State Policy Network (SPN), a coast-to-coast alliance of 66 rightwing thinktanks that has an $80m war chest to promote Donald Trump-friendly regressive policies such as low taxes and small government. The group is funded by such billionaire conservative donors as the Koch brothers and the Walton Family Foundation that stems from the Walmart fortune.

Previous SPN literature exposed by the Guardian has revealed the political motives behind the network’s attacks on unions. It aims to “defund and defang” public sector unions as a means to “reverse the failed policies of the American left”.

The goal, the group said, was “permanently depriving the left from access to millions of dollars in dues extracted from unwilling union members every election cycle”.

The Guardian has now obtained what SPN is calling a “toolkit” of advice to its followers on how to go about fomenting “union reform” – a euphemism for draining unions of members and cash. The “toolkit” sets out four “tactics” for depleting their power – “effective union reform”, in its language.

One of those tactics is the opt-out campaign.