Understanding Bullshit: The Chamber of Commerce
The Chamber of Commerce has such a quaint and welcoming name doesn’t it? Yet, the Chamber has always carried a completely undeserved air of legitimacy. It’s name alone makes it sound as though it's actually an extension of the federal government, rather than what it is. (A lobbying group representing a variety of trade interests.) And currently it’s one of the foremost forces in the country seeking to make your life at work as miserable as possible. How? Well, most recently by attempting to crush what’s known as Worker Centers.
Worker centers, as you may or may not 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, i.e. farm workers, restaurant workers, immigrant construction workers, 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.
Unfortunately, a few years ago, the Trump Labor Department—spurred on by Republicans (aka Capital cucks) in Congress and their business allies—indicated that it was considering a legal reclassification of worker centers that would allow the government to then saddle them with costly and onerous regulations that would dilute their effectiveness. (Ironically this is the very thing that the Chamber of Commerce often complains that the government is doing to private businesses). But in this case, it’s low-wage workers who will be harmed, and the Chamber of Commerce is leading the charge. The group has now released an entire report on the 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.
Naturally, (because worker centers are good at what they do), business interests want to destroy them. It’s a simple matter of who has the power and who doesn’t. And employers do 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 any meaningful way. It’s really that simple. It’s a question of profit maximization, rather than humanity. And the Chamber of Commerce, (that home of all the “respectable” business men and women in your community), is leading the political battle to crush worker centers by any means possible.
There was also a time when The National Labor Relations Board, sought to require notices in workplaces that said you have the right to form a union and you have the right to organize without retaliation. How did the Chamber of Commerce respond? They went to court to block this regulation on a technicality. There was no way they could challenge the regulation on its merits, but the Chamber was able to say the administration didn't follow the Administrative Procedure Act, which is a very arcane federal law that dictates how regulations get promulgated. And they of course were successful in getting this sidelined. This may seem like a very small thing, but across every American workplace, it has very big repercussions and helps maintain an uneven playing field in favor of employers against unions. (But, to be fair, hurting vulnerable people for money is how the Chamber does business).
The Chamber also spends tens of millions of dollars every election cycle on Congressional races to secure seats for friendly and loyal members of Congress—almost all of them of course Republican. (And you thought Russians were the problem). They have fought against everything from the the Americans With Disabilities Act, civil rights and safeguards for gays and lesbians, and at one point, it even championed the need to discriminate against pregnant employees. They are against workplace safety, regulating pollution, paid family leave, and banning chemicals that cause birth defects. (The Chambers guiding principle: “If it might help regular people, we consider it heresy.”) Free enterprise should be absolutely free, so their illogic goes. Anything less is would be an outrage. (Even if it turns the country into Rwanda with nicer Burger Kings).
The Chamber is essentially just an overpriced business cheerleader (aka lobbyists for hire) that reaches into other arenas of power to set the policy agenda for the nation in areas of central concern to its members. And since it’s classified as a non-profit, the Chamber does not have to disclose their donors. They are protected by Internal Revenue Service rules that govern what they call social welfare organizations. Under this cover, the Chamber can take large contributions from companies that want particular outcomes in Washington, but do not want to be exposed publicly to their customers and in the political arena to scrutiny for their actions.
So the next time you see your local community leader at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, go ahead and piss on their salad.