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Election Could Lead to “War on Workers”

Oct 15, 2014

Among the U.S. Senate’s almost unique powers of conducting impeachment trials, ratifying treaties, and voting on appointments as ambassadors and Supreme Court Justices, it can decide whether to confirm Presidential nominations to high-level positions in federal departments and agencies, including the Attorney General and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

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Attorney General Eric Holder is resigning, so a fight over confirming President Obama’s pick to replace him looms. And if the GOP wins control of the Senate Nov. 4, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) signaled that conservative lawmakers will attack the National Labor Relations Board, escalating their “war on workers,”

In this 100th year of the direct election of U.S. Senators, voters will decide on 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate, where Democrats now have a 53-45 majority, with two Independents (Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut caucus with Democrats).

Seats in play are 23 Democrats, 8 Republicans and both Independents. The GOP needs to hold on to its seats and win six of the others to dominate the Senate.

If they do, conservatives wouldn’t have to pass anti-union laws to further hurt regular working Americans. The budget and appropriations processes could slow government even if Obama vetoes anti-labor bills. Like Tea Partied House Republicans, a GOP Senate could just pester the NLRB or kill labor-friendly measures; NLRB nominations would be stymied; further weakening a slow, ineffective NLRB would start.

Alexander, the Senate Labor Committee’s ranking Republican, made the NLRB part of his successful campaign against a Tea Party challenger in August, saying, “The NLRB is pursuing some of the most intrusive and misguided policies under this administration.”Republicans could try to overturn a few recent NLRB actions, including a “fast-track” election ruling that could speed up union-representation voting to discourage employers from illegally threatening workers.

The NLRB’s makeup will change. Democratic board member Nancy Schiffer’s term expires in December, and a GOP-controlled Senate would probably block any replacement Obama nominates, so Schiffer’s exit would leave the board with two Republicans (Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson, III) and two Democrats (Mark Gaston Pearce and Kent Hirozawa).

Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, said, “I think what they really want to do is shut down the inner workings of the NLRB and keep them from doing their job.”

Already, the NLRB is in the process of reissuing hundreds of decisions invalidated by a Supreme Court ruling that Obama didn’t have the authority to make recess appointments.

Such a corporate-cozy battle plan isn’t exactly news – or new.

Bill Knight

A related conspiracy of sorts was hatched 43 years ago by future Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., a corporate lawyer and Big Tobacco lobbyist who issued a confidential memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that provided a blueprint for corporate supremacy.

Issued August 8, 1971, Powell’s manifesto, “The Attack on the American Free Enterprise System,” said the nation still embraced New Deal values (that government should help remedy inequality, injustice and other problems), and corporate America should change that by reasserting its influence.

Powell said Business must counter workers’ power by dominating government policy by investing in more lobbyists, conservative “think tanks,” Political Action Committee campaign contributions, bolstered public relations, and commercial support for Right-Wing causes and voices. The memo also urged “constant surveillance” of textbook and TV content, and purging progressive perspectives from books and other media.

Today, some corporations already defy the law, whether it’s labor law, financial regulations, or pollution protections. They bust unions, off-shore operations and profits, misclassify workers to engage in “wage theft,” and – through groups such as the Koch brothers’ American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Super PACs such as Karl Roves’ Crossroads GPS – draft legislation and elect their candidates.

So: Tax burdens are lifted from corporations and shouldered by everyday people; retirement benefits are weakened; wealth is dramatically transferred to the 1 percent; and so on.

But that’s not enough for extremists aiming to take over Capitol Hill.

If it’s a war these corporate conservatives declare, the response should be that once expressed by voting-rights pioneer Susan B. Anthony, who said, “ ‘Organize, agitate, educate’ must be our war cry.”

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.

Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; his twice-weekly columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com