Fake populist GOP promises to attack labor


Does the media tend to portray Donald Trump as a tribune of ordinary folks and Joe Biden as an establishment elitist? That is what political commentator Peter Beinart suspected. He recently performed an experiment:

“I searched ‘Donald Trump populist’ and then ‘Joe Biden populist’ on Google to see which garnered more responses. It wasn’t close. Google returned almost three times as many articles about Trump’s populism than Biden’s. Then I tried the reverse. I searched ‘Donald Trump elitist’ and ‘Joe Biden elitist.’ The results were even more lopsided, in the opposite direction. Biden’s elitism elicited almost thirty times more references.”

This is confusing because populism in this country is a rhetoric used by politicians of all varieties. Beinart argues that the media tends to lump together two different populisms: a progressive populism which expresses economic solidarity with the poor and working class and a right wing populism supporting a return to gender and racial norms of the past. Beinart says the media claims Trump and other Republicans are portrayed as anti-elitist “because they oppose gender-neutral bathrooms and thus create the impression that the GOP opposes tax breaks for hedge fund managers. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

This is frustrating since Trump’s policies disproportionately aided the wealthy and big business while Biden’s economic policies are the most progressive since Franklin Roosevelt. Actually Trump won the votes of the richest Americans by a wide margin while a majority of Biden’s voters were working and middle class.

Unions are experiencing a resurgence across the country. A Gallup poll found support for labor unions to be at their highest point in the U.S. since 1965. Republicans have been curiously quiet about this development while they proclaim that the GOP is the party of the working class. At the same time, they are hostile to unions.

In February, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida)  introduced the Teamwork for Employees and Managers (TEAM) Act in February with Rep. Jim Banks (R-Indiana). The bill creates ​“a pro worker alternative to unions, which are notoriously left-wing and almost always pit workers against management, only worsening the workplace environment,” Rubio said. These ​“union alternatives” are toothless. They can’t engage in collective bargaining and have no legal force.

A similar bill was passed by Congress in 1995 but vetoed by President Bill Clinton who said:

“… this legislation, rather than promoting genuine teamwork, would undermine the system of collective bargaining that has served this country so well for many decades. It would do this by allowing employers to establish company unions where no union currently exists and permitting company-dominated unions where employees are in the process of determining whether to be represented by a union. Rather than encouraging true workplace cooperation, this bill would abolish protections that ensure independent and democratic representation in the workplace.”

This would be a return to the days before the New Deal when many employers established mangagement-dominated employee organizations to thwart workers from forming their own independent unions.

Recently Politico reported: 

“Republicans are heavily favored to win back the House in the midterm election—and if they do, cracking down on anything they see as tilting the scales toward organized labor will be one of their first orders of business.”

President Joe Biden has repeatedly said that he intends to be the most pro-labor president in history.

House Republicans are planning to target labor regulators in the Biden administration such as Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo, as well as the NLRB itself and the White House’s new Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment. Led by Vice President Kamala Harris and vice chair Labor Secretary Walsh, the task force has issued a report with 70 recommendations to promote organizing and collective bargaining.

Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, joked that “we will probably be holding two oversight hearings a day.”

U.S. labor law has become a sick joke over the decades. Things improve when a Democrat becomes president but not nearly enough. Abruzzo has pleasantly surprised the labor movement with her aggressive actions and plans for the future.  Corporate America is nervous.

Progressives should be too. This November, the stakes are high. Democrats’ prospects are improving but complacency isn’t an option. 

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

Email: letters@boulderweekly.com