Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) took to the Senate floor Thursday to defend labor unions, saying that dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin opposed them.
Brown said that unions have wrongly come under attack from Republicans and conservatives, who are pitting workers against one another in states like his, where governments are taking action on anti-union legislation. Though he said he was not making a direct comparison, Brown claimed that "some of the worst governments we've ever had" have opposed labor unions.
Rhetoric over anti-union bills in Wisconsin and Ohio has reached a fever pitch, and politicians in Washington have adopted the cause to make political points.
Republican-backed bills in those states would limit public employees' ability to collectively bargain with the state. Supporters say that removing collective bargaining would make it easier to cut costs for states that are broke.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said this week that abolishing collective bargaining rights would be akin to reinstituting slavery. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said that collective bargaining has no place in representative government.
After Brown invoked Hitler and Stalin, he immediately said that he was not comparing Wisconsin to the Nazi and Soviet regimes.
"I'm not comparing what's happening to the workers in Wisconsin to Hitler and Stalin," he explained, "but I am saying that history is teaching us that unions are a very positive force in society that creates a middle class and protects our freedom."
Brown did repeatedly attack Republicans for going after unions.
"We've seen a real play on fear. They're trying to pit the private sector workers against the public-sector workers," he said. "That is the most base Karl Rove-type politics to turn working-class people one against another."