As we move into the holiday season, we're all looking forward to the birth of the new Democratic Congress — and those of us who work for a living, who are union members, who want to be union members, or who are convinced that the success of the labor movement is vital to the progressive movement, are focused on the labor issues that the new Congress will take up — and hopefully pass.
Nancy Pelosi has her "First 100 Hours " agenda, and John Sweeney has labor's agenda. Happily, most of their issues overlap nicely. Raising the minimum wage, dealing with prescription drug costs, making it harder for companies to go bankrupt and shed their pensions, health care benefits and labor agreements, improvements in workplace health and safety protections, improved access to health care and, of course passing the Employee Free Choice Act which will make it easier to organize unions are all issues that are part of the first 100 days — or at least the first several months of the new Congress.
But now the real work begins. As a veteran of a Democratic administration, I can say from experience that the bad news is that working with Democrats is more work than working with Republicans.
The good news is that you can actually make some progress with Democrats. I mean, with Republicans in charge, you know you can't get anything good done. All you have to do is stop bad things from happening, which is generally futile.
The good news here is that, as Nathan Newman notes, this is a much more solidly pro-labor caucus than we've ever seen before. The bad news is that the news is already full of stories about corporate lobbyists writing huge checks to Democrats . This can't be a good thing. I mean, it may be good for individual legislators' bank accounts, but bad for the rest of us. Now we must be wary of all kinds of compromisers, turncoats and those who are always looking over their shoulders while planning for the next election.
Speaking of which, all is not peaceful even with the Democratic "family." Competing with the labor agenda is pro-free trade "Rubinomics," named after Clinton's long-time Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Rubin, and personified by the Hamilton Project .
AFL-CIO leaders, contending Democrats won the midterm elections because of voter concern about job security and stagnant wages, say it's time to set aside the free-trade policies touted by Rubin.
"We need to review the Rubin agenda that's led to millions of lost jobs and declining standard of living for the middle class,'' said United Steelworkers President Leo Girard. “It's an agenda that has been very good for Citigroup and the financial community because they've been able to finance the relocation of jobs and refinance the trade deficits.''
Organized labor has long been at odds with "Rubinomics,'' the phrase coined to describe President Bill Clinton's economic policy, masterminded by Rubin, to promote free trade and reduce the budget deficit. Now, with Democrats regaining control of Congress, such issues may take on new urgency as labor sees a chance to wield greater influence over policy.
Rubin, 68, has called for a new economic direction by balancing the federal government's budget through spending cuts and tax increases, more free-trade agreements, wage insurance for workers dislocated by globalization and restraining personal- injury lawsuits.
AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Rich Trumka has accused them of forgetting about the reasons Democrats were elected: the need to address economic growth, stagnating wages and living standards of American working families. Machinists spokesman Rick Sloan was more blunt:
"When the wizards of Wall Street start dictating Democratic policy, the first to be forgotten are the Democratic voters who made these election successes possible,'' said Rick Sloan, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. "We get screwed every time these guys grab the handles of power. They forget the need to create jobs. They are much more interested in Chinese growth than Cleveland's growth.''