Democracy itself is under attack from union bosses. Teamsters President Jim Hoffa issued a press release Wednesday saying, “Since when is the secret ballot a basic tenet of democracy?”

He’s trying to excuse the inexcusable. Hoffa and other union bosses want to strip away workers’ right to a secret ballot election when deciding whether their workplace will join a union. The “card check” bill in Congress would let unions bypass the election process.

Hoffa’s comment echoes the head of Utah’s AFL-CIO, who recently called a secret ballot guarantee, “unnecessary and antidemocratic.

Since union leaders care so little about the rights of prospective members, how far will they go next to undercut the rights of everyone else?

The history of secret ballots is well-known, even if not to Hoffa.

Democracy originated in early Greece. Its integrity depends on the ability to cast a vote in private, free of intimidation or retribution. Early Greek voting was often done by writing a name on a shard of broken pottery and dropping it into a vase. Australia pioneered the pre-printed secret ballot in the 1850’s. In post-Civil War America’s reconstruction, secret ballot guarantees protected newly-freed slaves from physical intimidation and even lynching if they “voted wrong.” Secret ballots became the norm in America during the 1892 presidential election of Grover Cleveland.
Back to Hoffa. His statement continued, “Town meetings in New England are as democratic as they come, and they don’t use the secret ballot. Elections in the Soviet Union were by secret ballot, but those weren’t democratic.”

But town hall meetings are typically discussion sessions and not an occasion for elections. Soviet elections were the tribute that vice pays to virtue. It made a mockery of secret ballots when only one name was printed and no write-ins were allowed. Saddam Hussein used the same trick in Iraq.

Union leaders are making light of fundamental rights, but it’s not funny to anyone else.