Workers, allies lobbying incoming Dems for progressive legislation
Young people lobby in the halls of Congress for a green agenda even before the newly elected representatives are sworn in. AP

WASHINGTON—The Democratic-run U.S. House hasn’t even gotten underway yet, but lobbies for progressive causes – from saving the environment to restoring the teeth in the Voting Rights Act – are already seeking spots on the incoming lawmakers’ opening agenda.

What the Dems do when they take over is important to workers and their allies, even though very little – if anything – of what they’re contemplating will become law in the next two years.

That’s because of a bigger GOP majority in the U.S. Senate, plus lockstep control of it by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., plus right-wing anti-worker GOP President Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

All that means most of what the Dems do, unless they can insert their ideas in must-pass money bills to keep the government going, will be dead on arrival on the other side of Capitol Hill.

Instead, the measures will be planks in the House Democrats’ erection of a party platform to present to all of us in 2020.

Workers and their allies haven’t openly presented their plans, yet. But Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., incoming chair of the House Education and Labor Committee will offer an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, says Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., a panel member and former president of the South Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council.

And Scott himself is the lead sponsor of the Wage Act, the latest labor-backed rewrite of the nation’s basic labor laws. It would legalize voluntary recognition (“card check”) of unions at work sites when an independently certified majority of workers sign union election authorization cards.

The Wage Act would also remove many business- and court-erected hurdles to organizing workers and negotiating first contracts. And the measure would increase fines for company labor law-breaking.

That’s in line with the aims of the new and younger Democrats elected on Nov. 6. Representatives-elect, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the Democratic Socialist who is their unofficial leader, signaled they are interested in changing policies, not party leaders.

That became abundantly clear when the 29-year-old lawmaker-to-be, a Pelosi supporter, nevertheless joined a sit-in at Pelosi’s congressional office to agitate for congressional action to combat climate change.

There’s no shortage of suggestions, many of them important to workers. They include rebuilding U.S. infrastructure (North America’s Building Trades Unions), ordering OSHA to write a standard to cut violence against health care and social service workers (National Nurses United and Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney), and ending federal subsidies of corporate employers which let the firms underpay their workers.

That idea comes from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt. He calls it the “Stop Walmart Act,” which refers to the extremely low pay from the retail monster – which then forces its workers to depend on public programs.

Another, from Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who will head the House Judiciary Committee next year, is to stop letting firms forcing workers into mandatory arbitration, even on labor law violations. The GOP Supreme Court majority legalized that, too.

But all of these ideas will take a back seat to one from Pelosi herself. In a Washington Post op-ed, co-written with Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., the two outlined “real change to restore democracy.”

Their measure, with the symbolic bill number HR1, would restore enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act, again targeting them to states and local governments with histories of racial discrimination at the polls.

Given the proliferation of so-called “Voter ID” and other voter repression mechanisms, Republican-run governments have imposed since their 2010 sweep, that cause alone will give the Dems a lot to counteract.

HR1 will also attempt to counteract the GOP Supreme Court majority’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which threw open the U.S. campaign finance system to a tsunami of special interest, right wing and capitalist class corporate cash – overwhelming the rest of us.

The Dems’ measure “would require all political organizations to disclose their donors and shut down the shell game of big money donations to super PACs” – campaign finance committees – Pelosi and Sarbanes wrote.

That corporate and ruling class campaign cash, they declared, has stopped congressional action on workers’ causes, ranging from improving the Affordable Care Act to enacting workers’ rights to raising the minimum wage.

And HR1 would expand conflict-of-interest laws to “end the revolving door” between business and government, Pelosi and Sarbanes said.

“On Day 1, Democrats will deliver something real for all Americans – the most ambitious set of democracy reforms in a generation. These bold and positive reforms will return us to government of, by and #ForThePeople,” Sarbanes tweeted.

“Our communities sent me and my fellow Members-elect to Washington with a call to action – get dark money out of politics, clean up corruption, and make sure every vote and every voice is heard. Let’s make good on that promise,” tweeted Rep.-elect Katie Hill, D-Calif.

Once HR1 gets put on the table, the other ideas will come up. That includes raising the federal minimum wage, now $7.25 hourly, for the first time in a decade. That hike will be “a priority within our first 100 hours” Pelosi told one union audience in May.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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