OPINION: Solis and employee free choice both key to fixing the economy

Union members have been on the phone and all over the internet pushing for Senate confirmation of Hilda Solis, President Obama’s choice for Secretary of Labor and for the Employee Free Choice Act. The two battles are really part of one big effort.

Republicans mobilized fully to defeat the Solis nomination because they, and their big business backers, see it as the first battle over the Employee Free Choice Act, labors top legislative priority. Solis and Obama both support the bill, which would level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining.

At her confirmation hearing in January, Republicans repeatedly attempted to question Solis about her support for the legislation, hoping to use her strong pro-labor record against her.

Throughout the short history of the new Obama administration the far right has been consistent in its opposition to anything that benefits the working class – including the $787 billion stimulus package, the Solis nomination and the Employee Free Choice Act.

The right-wing dominated Republican Party continues to push the failed approach of tax breaks for the rich and it rejects any programs that pump funds into public works or any other efforts that help the people. They and their big business backers heap scorn on the Employee Free Choice Act because they recognize that it will help the economic recovery, not at the expense of workers but by making workers stronger.

Solis as labor secretary will also boost the economy because the pro-worker program she puts forward will result in more money in the hands of workers and therefore more money pumped into the economy.

During the Great Depression President Roosevelt considered his appointment of a pro-worker Secretary of Labor and the Wagner Act as central to his plan to rebuild the ruined economy.

By winning the right to organize and bargain collectively for a better life, workers pulled the entire nation out of the depression.

The famed economist n John Maynard Keynes noted in the 1930s that several of Roosevelt’s moves helped the recovery – solving the credit problem, relief for the jobless and massive public works programs. He credited Roosevelt for these things, but in a letter to the president, said, “I regard the growth of collective bargaining rights as essential” to restoring economic prosperity.

Today, the appointment of Solis and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act are just as essential to any recovery from the disaster we face.

This is what makes much of the big-business opposition to both Solis and the EFCA so incredible. Despite all evidence about how key Solis and the EFCA are to economic recovery, big business says “no.” What they are really saying, of course, is that they can’t tolerate workers rights, contract bargaining, or even free speech for anyone but themselves.

Bank of America Corp. hosted a teleconference for top corporate executives only three days after getting a $25 billion handout from American taxpayers.

The topic discussed was not what the executives would do to help the economy out of the disaster but methods to persuade corporations to send “large contributions” to groups fighting employee free choice.

AIG, the insurance mogul that was bailed out to the tune of $40 billion did the same thing – use bailout money it got from workers to plan use of those funds to deny those same workers their fundamental human rights.

And then, of course, there was the now-famous Bernie Marcus, the founder of Home Depot, who called the Employee Free Choice Act “the demise of civilization.”

Marcus reportedly put off a pleasure cruise on his 350 foot yacht in the Mediterranean to attend a meeting of corporate bigwigs plotting against both the Solis appointment and the Employee Free Choice Act. At that meeting he said that shareholders of any companies that had CEOs who weren’t fighting against employee free choice should “sue the sonofabitch.”

The efforts by labor and its allies for Solis and for employee free choice are enormous.

Those efforts have the corporate lobbyists, the Chamber of Commerce and other employer front groups running scared because they know that the labor movement and its allies are on a path which, one way or the other, will lead to a pro-worker labor secretary and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

One of the many aces in the hole, of course, is that workers have the active support and encouragement of the President of the United States – the man who nominated Solis and who has pledged to make employee free choice a reality.

John Wojcik (jwojcik @ pww.org) is labor editor of People's Weekly World.