Right-Wing Hoaxster Smears Labor Educators

This article was updated on May 6.

Two Missouri labor educators are under attack in the right-wing blogosphere from notorious hoaxster Andrew Breitbart, whose outfit was responsible for the deceptive video that took down the national community organization ACORN.

This week’s target is labor studies, specifically a University of Missouri course taught by labor educator Judy Ancel and Operating Engineers business manager Don Giljum, who’s taught labor ed classes since 1989.

According Breitbart’s website, Ancel and Giljum have spent the spring semester teaching union members how to gain power through violence and intimidation.

In a now familiar technique, the evidence for the grand conspiracy is a video that’s been sliced and diced so much it looks like coleslaw.

Breitbart released two seven-minute videos, deceptively edited and remixed snippets that are taken from more than 30 hours of classroom video-conference tapes.

The videos cut away context and patch statements together from weeks apart to turn probing academic questions into semi-endorsements of violence. Watch Giljum seamlessly change shirts between sentences.

Twisting Words and History

In fact, Breitbart edited the classroom videos to literally put words in the instructors’ mouths.

In one section, Ancel explains how neoliberal governments use crises to “shift power dramatically.” This lecture was actually in an entirely different course. But Breitbart inserts the sentence into a lecture on union contract campaigns, so it looks as if Ancel advocates unions causing a crisis.

In another section, Giljum told Labor Notes he said, “Labor can’t deny its violent past in response to the repression that was perpetrated on it. It’s hard to say that was not appropriate at that time; it might have been. I don't believe those tactics are going to work today and I think they would do more harm than good.”

Breitbart snipped out the words in italics.

Ancel and Giljum co-taught a class on “Labor, Politics, and Society,” during which they asked students to examine why labor’s past was so violent—among many other subjects. It’s a standard topic in any exploration of the American labor movement.

Breitbart reverses the history of who was responsible for the violence, though. Violence has been used overwhelmingly against workers: labor historian Joshua Freeman says that throughout U.S. labor history, about 700 strikers have been killed by mercenaries hired by the bosses, state militias, and the police—the most workers killed in any industrial country.

Ancel released a statement today, saying, “At no time did my co-instructor, Don Giljum, nor I advocate violence. There’s no doubt that Breitbart’s attacks are politically motivated, part of a broad agenda to weaken unions and the public sector as well as public education.”

Seen This Before

Breitbart announced his intentions on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show April 18, saying, “We’re going to take on education next, go after the teachers and the union organizers.”

Breitbart’s big claim to fame is the ACORN set-up, where two young conservatives tried to con the organization’s staff into helping them set up a business front for a prostitution ring.

ACORN staff contacted police after the two visited, but mix together deceptive editing, video of an outlandish pimp costume added after the fact, and the echo chamber of right-wing media—and a media firestorm broke out that burnt away ACORN’s funding and collapsed the organization within weeks.

Prosecutors confirmed that ACORN staff didn’t break any laws, but that was never the point. The manufactured controversy alone was big enough to bury the nation’s largest community organization.

Breitbart’s hoax factory operates on the premise that if you throw enough dirt, something will stick. He’s tried the same tactics on NPR, Planned Parenthood, Senate Democrats, and the NAACP and Shirley Sherrod, an African-American Department of Agriculture employee.

The only reason conservative bloggers haven’t worked themselves up into a full lather about the labor educators is that yesterday’s news cycle was dominated by another crackpot conspiracy theory—that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.

YouTube eventually removed Breitbart’s videos, which appeared to violate YouTube guidelines. They were posted without permission of those pictured and apparently are the property of the university. Click here for interviews with students who were pictured in the videos.

Ironically, some of the commenters on Breitbart’s Big Government site advocated violence themselves, against “every liberal dirtbag on the street/campus etc.”

Muted Response

Reactions in the labor movement were mixed. Herb Johnson, Missouri AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, said he was “incensed that we have scoundrels who go out and character-assassinate good people in our community.”

He called Giljum “a great trade unionist” but said the federation was not yet planning to issue a statement supporting the two, preferring not to “fan the flames” and “just cause more reaction.”

Instead, Johnson said, the executive board passed a resolution Wednesday “that we never have and never would endorse any kind of violence for any reason whatsoever.”

The attorney for the Missouri AFL-CIO, Ron Gladney, called Giljum’s international union and asked officials there to pressure him to resign from his local and international positions, which they did.

Giljum resigned, despite the fact that he had announced back in January he would be retiring May 1—just days away.

According to Giljum, Gladney argued that the incident might cause Missouri Republicans to take up a right-to-work bill, which they have till now avoided.

The University of Missouri-St. Louis told Giljum he will not be rehired next semester. But the provost of the Kansas City branch said Thursday, after reviewing videotapes of the class, that Breitbart’s video was “inaccurate and distorted” and that the university was committed to academic freedom and "the free-flowing discussion of challenging topics in our courses."

The national AFL-CIO has jumped in to help defend the two teachers, and the American Association of University Professors issued a statement. The United Association for Labor Education, which includes educators both at universities and in unions, planned a strong defense, with a Facebook page, statement, and letter to the university. UALE is urging members to work with their connections in labor and in education to critique the dishonest video, defend labor education, and build alliances with Breitbart's other targets. Sign UALE's petition here.

Ancel asked for letters of support for Giljum to University of Missouri-St. Louis Chancellor Thomas F. George, chancellor [at] umsl [dot] edu, with a copy to Deborah Baldini, Associate Dean for Continuing Education, BaldiniD [at] msx [dot] umsl [dot] edu. Letters should ask for Giljum's rehiring in future semesters and question his forced resignation with no investigation, no due process, and violation of his academic freedom.

UALE Vice President Helena Worthen pointed out that discussion of labor history and tactics is exactly “the kind of thing people talk about in labor ed classes: what do we have to do in order to turn things around? This happens in political science and history classes all the time.”

UALE member Steven Ashby of the University of Illinois said, “It’s no coincidence this attack comes in the wake of the biggest workers’ upsurge in 30 years, in Wisconsin.”

The goal of labor education programs, Ashby said, “is to educate and assist workers to build stronger unions. The right wing would like all labor studies programs wiped out because they want all unions wiped out.”

Correction: The story originally said 7,000 strikers have been killed in U.S. labor history. The correct figure is closer to 700.