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Many people—including working men and women—still regard the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a patriotic, pro-American organization. And why wouldn’t they? It’s been around long enough to have become a household name, and it’s masterful at running a public relations campaign. As for its role in politics, I’ve even heard people describe the Chamber as “a booster or cheerleader” rather than an actual participant.
They couldn’t be more wrong. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not only a “participant,” it’s a driving force, a juggernaut, an ideological king-maker. By aligning itself with America’s plutocracy and free-market fundamentalists, the Chamber of Commerce has become a virtual clearing house for anti-progressive politics.
Since the early days of the Reagan administration the Chamber has funneled, literally, billions of dollars into efforts to defeat candidates, neutralize movements, and kill legislation that seek to strengthen or protect the middle and lower-middle class. Which gives a whole new meaning to the term “booster.”
Think of any progressive policy, and it’s a good bet the Chamber has opposed it: the minimum wage, enacting the EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act), bolstering the NLRB, campaign reform, healthcare reform, immigration reform, elimination of corporate tax loopholes, meaningful reform of financial institutions, more stringent safety regulations the mining and oil drilling industries, etc., etc. The list is endless.
Hard as it may be to believe, the Chamber of Commerce has even weighed in on labor reform in faraway China. They oppose it. Why? Because raising the social consciousness of Chinese workers could eventually cut into corporate profits. There’s no limit to their scope. You name a progressive idea, and the Chamber has campaigned against it.
The Chamber regularly opposes any attempt by the U.S. government and organized labor to level the playing field when it comes to us competing with foreign businesses that are being subsidized (legally or illegally) by governments looking to expand their own national economies.
Now why would a U.S. institution support policies that benefit foreign corporations but hurt the American worker? The answer is simple: Because multinational conglomerates and Wall Street bankers stand to profit from such arrangements, and because, in truth, the complaints and hardships of American workers, no matter how valid, are irrelevant.
Therefore, it was no surprise that the Chamber opposed the Obama administration’s decision to assess duties on the “dumping” of foreign paper. On October 22, the USITC (U.S. International Trade Commission) finally recommended that the Dept. of Commerce begin anti-dumping measures against China and Indonesia by levying duties on their coated paper imports.
Taking the position that assessing duties on foreign paper represented government interference in the so-called free market (and had the potential to instigate a trade war with China), the Chamber opposed the measure.
Begun in 1912 as a modest, loose-knit association of various commercial and trade organizations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is, today, the largest lobbying entity in existence. Fact: Each year the Chamber spends more money than any other lobbying group in the world. That bears repeating: The Chamber of Commerce spends more money than any lobbying group in the world.
If the implications weren’t so dire, the Chamber’s slavish willingness to serve America’s masters and perpetuate the myth of “trickle-down” economics would be almost comical. After all, there’s never been a wealthy customer the Chamber didn’t like, or a powerful profit-center it wasn’t willing to fight for.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich noted that the top twenty-five hedge fund managers on Wall Street earned $3 billion or more each. Wretchedly excessive as those figures are, their income tax bite, according to Reich, averaged out at less than 17-percent. Yet the Chamber has spent millions of dollars trying to extend George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
People wring their hands over the emergence of the Tea Party movement, but the big dog in this fight is clearly the Chamber of Commerce—further empowered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) decision, which allows moneyed interests to whale on the political process.
The Chamber of Commerce is a turbo-lobbyist dedicated to one, single-minded goal: the preservation and prosperity of the ruling class at the expense of the middle and lower-middle class. There’s a name for that.
DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. He can be reached at email@example.com