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pork chopper

pork chopper

A pork chopper is a union official who is in his position because of self-interest, not because he has the best interest of the other union members at heart.

Meriam Webster notes that “pork chop” was a slang name for the benefits derived from organized labor. The term pork chopper grew out of this expression, since a pork chopper supposedly cared more about his own salary than about the lasting values of the union.

William Safire says that the term originated in the 1930s, when it was used to refer to any full time union leader; tellingly, Safire says, pork chopper was used to refer to any “holder of a political patronage job.” 

Today, we rarely use the phrase pork chopper, but there is a host of other expressions relating to pork. We talk about pork barrel politics, to mean that a particular politician is spending heavily on a local project in order to curry favor with their constituents at home. We also talk more generally about pork as any kind of government spending intended to win votes or build up alliances. Government jobs, contracts, or funding can all fall under the broad definition of pork.

Pork chop has a very different association to many Floridians, though. The Pork Chop Gang was a group of conservative politicians who dominated Florida’s local political systems for decades, beginning in  the 1930s. The Pork Chop Gang was pro-segregation and anti-communist; its membership was also rabidly anti-homosexual and devoted a lot of its energy to trying to get teachers and college professors thought to be homosexuals fired from their jobs.

The Pork Chop Gang is closely associated with Senator Charley Johns, who acted as the group’s unofficial leader for many years. Johns spent many years in the Florida state senate, and also served as Florida’s governor. As a state senator, he and his fellow Pork Choppers sponsored legislation to oppose integrating Florida’s public schools. One such piece of legislation called for shutting down the public schools if they did not remain segregated. The state’s governor vetoed this bill, but the Pork Choppers managed to get other, related laws passed.

The Pork Choppers set up a committee known as the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee which had, as its stated goal, to “investigate all organizations whose principles or activities include a course of conduct on the part of any person or group which could constitute violence, or a violation of the laws of the state, or would be inimical to the well being and orderly pursuit of their personal and business activities by the majority of the citizens of this state.” In effect, the committee pursued an anti-communist and anti-integration agenda, and its investigations tended to target civil rights leaders.

In 2019, the Florida Sun-Sentinel published an editorial claiming that a group of Republicans in the state legislature was threatening to bring back the old pork chopper days, by making it harder for ordinary citizens to pass initiatives. The editorial claimed that if the new law passed,  “Florida would be back where it was in the 1950s, when a tyranny of 20 rural senators known as the Pork Chop Gang kept a death grip on the 1885 Constitution.”