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September 23, 2005

Clinton's Pro-Labor Politics

Mickey Kaus has decided to, in his description, play Bill Clinton in bashing labor unions as compared to paleoliberals like Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias (Matt knows how funny I find that characterization of him :) who are defending Davis-Bacon wage standards.

Except that Kaus is either disingenuous or an idiot, since Clinton enacted some decidely pro-labor policies. Yes, he supported NAFTA, but on the issue of government contracts, Clinton passed a series of policies to make sure federal contracts would go to unionized companies, including

  • Defending Davis-Bacon from Republican attack.
  • Passing an executive order banning any company using replacement workers in a strike from receiving federal contracts -- unfortunately overturned by the conservative DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Enacting regulations to require new federal contractors to retain existing workers from previous contractors (repealed under Bush).
  • Creating regulations to ban environmental and labor lawbreakers from receiving federal contract (repealed under Bush).

    In other areas of labor protection, Clinton also:

  • Vetoed the Republican attempts to legalize company unions (the so-called TEAM Act).
  • Enacted ergonomic regulations to stop repetitive stress injuries (repealed by Bush).
  • Supported legislation to completely ban the use of permanent replacement workers by private companies (filibustered by the GOP).
  • Created new regulations to streamline claims of workers suffering from black lung disease (repealed under Bush).
  • Appointed members to the National Labor Relations Board who extended labor rights to graduate student employees, temp workers and a range of other workers-- and generally ruling in favor of union rights.
  • Blocked mergers in the telecom industry by anti-union MCI and Sprint, thereby encouraging the surival of mostly unionized companies in the industry.
  • Signed the Family and Medical Leave Act and enacted a series of regulations with strong enforcement components.

    Labor and Clinton had some serious disagreements, as noted on trade especially, but even there Clinton came around to supporting strong labor standards, as in the Jordan free trade agreement and at the 1989 WTO trade summit.

    And that's because he understood, unlike Kaus, that no progressive policy is possible without workers having their own voice at work. The true insanity of Kaus's position is captured in this quote of his:

    In the real world, if we want worker protections, unions are an increasingly obsolete way of delivering them; it's generally better to guarantee worker safety through OSHA, for example, than unions
    Go read Jordan Barab's blog, Confined Space, where, day after day, he documents the ongoing failure of OSHA to protect worker safety and health. Seriously, go scroll down Jordan's blog and see if you can stop giggling uncontrollably at Kaus's idiocy.

    The reality is that without a union in a workplace, workers are afraid to enforce their rights for fear of losing their jobs. It is a delusion of liberals that the government by itself can overcome the autocratic power of employers over their employees. Workers need a voice IN THE WORKPLACE to enforce their rights, which is why real progressives support labor rights.

    Posted by Nathan at September 23, 2005 08:58 AM