The Chamber of Commerce has such a quaint and welcoming name. Yet it is one of the foremost forces in the country seeking to make your life at work more miserable. Example One Million: crushing worker centers.
Worker centers, as you may know, are nonprofit groups that help (usually low-wage) working people with things like education, political advocacy, fighting wage theft, and other organizing activities to help give the most vulnerable workers in America some semblance of a safety net. Most worker centers exist to serve people who do not or cannot have a union to look out for their interests— farm workers, restaurant workers, immigrant construction workers and housekeepers, and others. If you want to see an organization that is using the basic tools of education and organizing for undiluted good, go observe an effective worker center. They make the lives of poor working people better. They help people who have no other institution that will help them. That is what worker centers do. At a time when unions have grown too weak to be able to protect the majority of the working class, worker centers are, for countless people, the first, last, and only line of defense against exploitation in the workplace.
Naturally, because worker centers are good at what they do, business interests want to destroy them. It is a simple matter of power. Business does not want their workers to have any. They want a pliable, easily intimidated, easily exploited low-wage workforce that lacks any tools to advocate for itself or to fight back against businesses in a meaningful way. It’s that simple. It’s question of profit maximization, rather than humanity. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that home of all the respectable businessmen in your community, is leading the political battle to crush worker centers by any means possible.
Last year, the Trump Labor Department—spurred on by Republicans in Congress and their business allies—indicated that it was considering a legal reclassification of worker centers that would allow the government to saddle them with costly and onerous regulations that would dilute their effectiveness. Ironically, the very thing that the Chamber of Commerce often complains that the government is doing to private business! But in this case, because low-wage workers are the ones who will be harmed, the Chamber of Commerce is leading the charge. The group has now released an entire report on this topic, arguing that worker centers are “Union Front Groups” and should be subject to the same level of regulation that unions are—even though worker centers do not engage in collective bargaining (the most important power of unions) and, in fact, only exist to serve people who are not served by unions. And the reason most of these workers are not served by unions is because of decades’ worth of Republican-sponsored hostile labor laws that see to it that it is extremely difficult for unions to serve them, no matter the need. To call a worker center a “Union Front Group” is like calling an emergency room a “Quality Health Care Front Group.” If our nation was civilized enough to give everyone the latter, the former wouldn’t need to exist.
A congressional subcommittee is holding hearings on this issue today. They are doing this not to discuss how to modernize labor law in order to help working people like you and me and the vast majority of other U.S. citizens; they are holding hearings on how to modernize labor law for the purpose of hobbling or eradicating even the most minimal lines of defense erected by working people. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is their staunchest ally in this inhuman quest. So the next time you see the local community leader at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, piss on his salad. Hurting vulnerable people for money is their business.