Hang On to Your Butt: Trump Gets to Choose the Next Secretary of Labor

There’s some bitter irony in the fact that the most compassionate Secretary of Labor in U.S. history—indeed, the “best friend” the Working Class ever had—and the least compassionate Secretary of Labor in history—indeed, the “worst enemy” the Working Class ever had—were both women.

Frances Perkins, the country’s first woman Labor Secretary (appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal cabinet), also has the distinction of having served as Labor Secretary longer than any person in history, from 1933 to 1945.

FDR loved her, the American worker loved her (she was instrumental in getting the watershed National Labor Relations Act—the Wagner Act—passed by Congress, in 1935), and Perkins clearly loved the American worker.

By contrast, Elaine Chao, George W. Bush’s Labor Secretary, was a witch. With an aristocrat’s conceit and utter contempt for working people—an amalgam of Imelda Marcos and Leona Helmsley (and dare we say Melania Trump?)—Ms. Chao may have been the most nakedly ambitious women to hit Washington D.C. in the post-War era. And that is saying something.

A quick look at Chao’s resume reveals a quintessential “climber,” a woman for whom Ambition is one of the four major food groups. Not the understandably “talent-oriented” ambition seen in my idols like Elizabeth Warren, Ann Richards, J.K. Rowling, Barbara Mikulski and Molly Ivins, but the naked, primordial ambition of a Lucretia Borgia. Or a female spider.

Just take a look at Chao’s astonishing ascendancy. She was a vice-president at Bank of America, an administrator in Reagan’s Department of Transportation, chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission, a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation (a Washington D.C. think tank), and very briefly, just long enough to sweeten her resume, Director of the Peace Corps.

Of course, along the way, Chao managed to do what many women “climbers” do; she married a man who could help her career—not only help it, but drop-kick the son of a bitch into the stratosphere. In her case, it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky.

No one’s trying to be snarky here. In truth, had Chao, as Labor Secretary, not been such a transparently anti-worker, pro-business gargoyle, none of these calculated steps up the ladder would have been worth showcasing. What would be the point? After all, aren’t narcissism, hyper-ambition and vomit-inducing displays of self-importance are all part of the landscape? Although it’s fair to say that Chao did tend to go overboard.

In an article dealing with Senator McConnell, the “New York Times” (May 14, 2014) described her as “an unapologetically ambitious operator with an expansive network, a short fuse, and a seemingly inexhaustible drive to get to the top and stay there.” The article went on to say that she “had gold-colored coins minted with her name in bas-relief,” and had employed a person to carry them in a bag for her. Mother Teresa she ain’t.

Labor writer Dick Meister noted that Chao was so intent on furthering the interests of employers, you would think “she was Secretary of Commerce, not Secretary of Labor.” Chao opposed raising the minimum wage, she ignored violations of federal labor laws (safety statutes as well as wage and benefit statutes), she argued that the 170,000 members of the Homeland Security Dept. be denied union rights, even when the majority sought them.

Labor Secretaries are more than Cabinet “ornaments.” They have enormous influence, not only on the economy, but on the nation’s psyche. Given that workers, historically, have been at the mercy of their employers, it is the Secretary of Labor’s job to defend them—to represent the interests of workers in their relations with management. Alas, Elaine Chao was a management goon.

And now Trump gets to pick his own Labor Secretary.

With the White House, Supreme Court, House of Representatives and Senate all Republican dominated, it’s unlikely he will pick a good one. Which is to say, it won’t be one committed to the Working Class. Which is to say it could even be a mean one. Which is to say Rudy Giuliani.

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front