On today's BradCast: Joe Biden has been winning quite a bit lately. Today was no exception. So, can he turn that winning streak into a win for labor unions and keep his campaign promise to be "the most pro-union President you've ever seen"? As of now, he's on track for that as well, according to historians and labor leaders --- even if that's admittedly not a very high bar. [Audio link to show is posted below summary.]
On Wednesday, Biden saw three more of his cabinet picks nominated on a bipartisan basis in the U.S. Senate. Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio will become the first African American woman to lead the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development in 40 years, after vowing to address systemic racial inequities at the federal agency. Michael Regan was confirmed as the first black man to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. And Merrick Garland received his long awaited confirmation as our new Attorney General, as the widely-respected, veteran federal judge takes on the tall task of fulfilling Biden's promise to restore independence to the Dept. of Justice.
None of those, however, were Biden's biggest wins of the day, as the U.S. House gave final approval for his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The massive COVID relief and stimulus package now heads to the White House for his signature on what some describe as one of the most progressive bills to ever come out of Congress. $1,400 checks to individuals and a $300/week extension of unemployment benefits is just a small part of the bill, which also includes annual payments of up to $3,600 per child, in a provision which policy experts say will cut child poverty in half and adult poverty by a quarter. It will reduce the overall poverty rate in 2021 by more than a third, lower the rate for Black people by as much as 42%, 39% for Hispanics and 34% for white people. In addition, the measure will send $130 billion to reopen schools safely, $34 billion will expand Obamacare subsidies to many more people, $25 billion for emergency rental assistance, and $14 billion will help to speed vaccine distribution, among many other such initiatives. That, on a day that Biden also announced he was securing another 100 million vaccine doses from Johnson & Johnson.
No wonder Republicans have no clue how to oppose the plan (other than with obviously ridiculous and silly lies), after the package received zero votes from GOPers in either the House or Senate. Democrats own this one, and they should do so loudly and proudly. The additional good news here for now is that even Chuck Schumer finally seems to "get it". There is no upside to negotiating with Republicans if they are going to be doing so in bad faith, as they did on the stimulus bill under Obama in response to the Great Recession.
But the central focus of our show today is on a couple of moves by the President that labor leaders, experts, and academics are citing to describe Biden as, so far, the most pro-worker, pro-labor, pro-union President in decades, and maybe ever.
Last week, he surprised a lot of folks on the left by tweeting a direct, unambiguous video message of support for workers who are now voting on whether to unionize at an Amazon warehouse outside of Birmingham, Alabama. It would be the first such facility to do so in the nation. Biden's two and a half message lauded unions for creating the middle class and spoke to American workers' rights under the law to organize for collective bargaining without corporate interference.
And this week, he issued a direct, unambiguous statement of support for the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act before its passage in the House on Tuesday. Labor leaders describe the initiative as the most progressive, pro-union bill in 80 years. Of course, now all it has to do is overcome a filibuster in the Senate.
We're joined today by longtime labor historian and author NELSON LICHTENSTEIN, Distinguished Professor at UC-Santa Barbara, where he directs the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy. Lichtenstein explains both the importance of the PRO Act and the ongoing vote to unionize Amazon down in Alabama. He also addresses the question as to whether Biden could become the most pro-union President in modern times, or even in history.
"The bar is very low," Lichtenstein concedes, in comparing Biden to recent Presidents who may have supported unions with words --- though none as directly as we've seen from Biden to date --- but not necessarily with their actions. "Biden is saying all the right things, but this will all fade unless there actually is legislation that is passed in some form" that turns "the reality on the ground" into a "revival of trade unionism."
"It's one thing to say terrific things --- and I'm not being cynical, all power to him -- but history will judge him by whether or not there is in fact an increase in real wages, an increase in union membership, an increase in the power of organized labor."
The colorful professor has much more to say that I can possibly do justice to here, so please tune in. But, after we discuss how it just so happens that the most prosperous period in history for the American middle class also coincides with the era when trade unionism and collective bargaining were at their zenith, I ask if there is any actual historical economic data in support of the notion that unions are somehow either bad for business or workers, as folks on the right would have you believe, and as all too many in this country have fallen for after decades of corporate, anti-union propaganda.
"No," Lichtenstein answers emphatically. "There is no support for that. It is good both economically, in an immediate sense, and even more important, politically, because it helps sustain a social democratic ethos and policy block in the country." He goes on to add: "One of the reasons for the deterioration in America of everything --- from race relations to stagnating living standards --- is because of the weakness of unions in the last forty, fifty years."
As noted, do yourself a favor and tune in for our conversation. I learned a lot and suspect you may as well. And, as a gift, we close today with arguably the ONLY good thing to come out of the Trump years: national treasure Randy Rainbow returns with another new tune that may keep you humming all night...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)