The AFL-CIO will be 50 years old in 2005. Its leaders have sat down and met with every U.S. President during those 50 years, except one, George W. Bush. The compassionate conservative will not talk to the representatives of organized workers. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney made this point in a speech on Labor Day of 2003, in which he called Bush’s refusal to meet “a travesty.”
Sweeney also referred to Bush’s as “the most anti-worker Administration in decades,” and ran through a partial list of Bush’s attacks on labor. The situation has only grown more extreme including attacks on overtime pay, Social Security, and the rights of various categories of workers to organize. And Bush still hasn’t met with Sweeney.
It would be difficult to prove that most of the corporate media has noticed any of this. There was a little coverage of the government of China’s recent refusal to meet with labor leaders from the United States, but no corporate media outlets placed this in the context of the U.S. government’s own on-going refusal.
The media continues to refer to Elaine Chao as the “Secretary of Labor,” although she has little contact with labor and is generally known for repealing an ergonomics rule that had been 10 years in the making, and eliminating the right to overtime pay for millions of Americans. Chao is one of only six cabinet secretaries staying on for another term (or five if Rumsfeld departs). On December 16, Chao moderated a panel discussion on “Preparing for Jobs in the 21st Century.” Labor was not represented on the panel, other than in the name of the department that is part of Chao’s job title.
Substantive comments on Chao’s performance for the past four years aren’t part of most media accounts of her re-appointment. Agence France Press on December 10th noted that she was an immigrant. Susan Page at USA Today on December 10th marveled at the diversity of Bush’s cabinet, noting that Chao is an Asian-American woman, as did Joe Klein 17 days later in Time.
No one offered similar praise for the Bush Administration’s rampant nepotism, but many accounts noted that Chao is married to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the second-highest ranking majority senator. Some accounts noted nothing else about her. John Mercurio of CNN on December 19th offered Chao as an example of a “safe nomination,” because she’s the wife of “a very popular Republican senator.”
Of the few accounts that went into any more depth than that, most of them quoted questionable assertions from Chao and included no analysis of her credibility or even opposing opinions from anyone else. The one media outlet that offered any critical observations was the Louisville Courier-Journal (McConnell is a senator from Kentucky). In a December 10th article, the Courier-Journal provided a “balanced” report on opposing opinions:
“Business organizations have praised Chao for her efforts to reduce what they view as unnecessary regulation and to make compliance with federal labor laws easier. But organized labor and Democratic critics have attacked Chao and the administration, citing what they say are workplace safety reductions and other policies hostile to working people.”
An editorial in the next day’s Courier-Journal began: “Of all the Bush Cabinet members who could have been replaced, none deserved to go more than Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has botched a war, and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who has failed America’s workers. Had this administration decided to merge the Labor and Commerce departments (not as silly a notion as it might sound, given the obsessive pro-business orientation of the President and his friends), Ms. Chao might have been a rousing success. As it is, she seems to have developed the worst reputation, at least among organized labor groups, of anyone who has held her portfolio.” The editorial concludes on this note: “Oh well. At least the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are delighted that Ms. Chao will staying. In Bush World, that’s what counts.”
Perhaps the Bush Administration needs to be reminded who labor is. If President Sweeney were to stand at the gate of the White House together with international union presidents and a crowd of rank and file union members, and demand a meeting with Bush, the media might be forced to recognize what Bush and Chao’s attitude toward labor is.
DAVID SWANSON is Media Coordinator for The International Labor Communications Association. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org