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The Commerce Juggernaut

Who Is Organized Labor’s Most Feared Enemy?

by DAVID MACARAY

Based on everything that’s happened in the last 70 years or so, one might reasonably assume the Republican Party is labor’s chief adversary. After all, it was the Republicans who sponsored the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, a squalid piece of pro-business legislation that pretty much defanged and de-clawed the landmark 1935 National Labor Relations Act (known as the Wagner Act).

Among other things, Taft-Hartley outlawed jurisdictional and wildcat strikes, secondary boycotts and secondary picketing, the closed shop, and most importantly, provided the legal underpinnings that made “right-to-work” states possible. And, as late as 2009, it was congressional Republicans who torpedoed the proposed EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act), which would have made “card check” the law of the land.

Another candidate for “labor’s chief enemy” might be the Tea Party, a fairly recent addition to the political landscape. Given that TP’ers seem to hate every other post-New Deal progressive measure that came down the pike, it stands to reason they would hate labor unions as well. Yet, for reasons unknown, organized labor doesn’t appear to be on their radar. If it were, yes, the Tea Party would undoubtedly hate unions as much as they hate the government, immigrants and secular humanism.

The Tea Party’s position vis-à-vis labor is reminiscent of that exchange between Peter Lorre, as the wormy Ugarte, and Humphrey Bogart, as Rick Blaine, owner/operator of the Cafe Americain, in the classic 1942 film, Casablanca. The scene: a wormy, overly solicitous Ugarte is groveling in Rick’s office.

Ugarte: “You despise me, don’t you?”

Rick: “If I gave you any thought, I probably would.”

But as a matter of fact, organized labor’s arch-enemy is neither the Republican Party nor the Tea Party. Labor’s arch-enemy—and a truly dangerous enemy it is—happens to be the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, led by its single-mindedly anti-union president and CEO, Thomas Donahue.

What makes the Chamber of Commerce so formidable an adversary isn’t simply that it’s vehemently anti-worker (Exhibit A: the Chamber wants to abolish the federal minimum wage of $7.25, arguing that even this pitifully low wage unfairly cuts into management’s earnings), but that it is the biggest lobbying entity on Planet Earth. And needless to say, when you’re the world’s biggest lobbyist, you’re going to have enormous influence.

Granted, it’s our elected officials, those Republican congressmen and senators—and not the Chamber of Commerce itself—who pass the anti-labor legislation (or, more accurately, keep pro-labor legislation from being passed), but it’s the Chamber’s mighty lobbying engine that installs them in office, gives them their marching orders, gets them re-elected, and buys their votes.

In November, 2010, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that U.S. companies had their best quarter ever. Repeat: Their best quarter ever. Business recorded profits at an annual rate of $1.66 trillion in the third quarter of 2010, which is the highest rate (in non-inflation-adjusted figures) since the government began keeping records more than 60 years ago. And with wages stagnant and workforces slashed, why wouldn’t these businesses flourish.

But even with corporate profits at record levels, the Chamber hasn’t let up in its war against the American worker. It rejoices in wages remaining low and workers being laid off, because skeleton workforces and tiny payrolls translate into more coin in the company’s pocket. Compared to the well-oiled and rapacious juggernaut that is the Chamber of Commerce, those flag-waving Tea Party folks seem almost whimsical.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net