South Carolina: Ground Zero for the GOP Candidates' Assault on Working Americans' Rights
On the South Carolina campaign trail Tuesday, a questioner at a Chamber of Commerce forum asked Rick Perry what the National Labor Relations Board would look like if he were President. For today’s GOP, that’s the equivalent of a slow pitch over home plate, and Perry knocked it out of the park: “There wouldn’t be one.” As Slate reported, “The crowd lit up at that.”
Perry’s headed back to Texas, having dropped out just days before the primary. But NLRB-hatred is still going strong. Newt Gingrich, who just took the lead in South Carolina polls and received Perry’s endorsement on Thursday, told the same Chamber of Commerce crowd that he would defund the NLRB if he were Speaker again, and is researching whether he could unilaterally eliminate it as president. Supposed moderate Mitt Romney calls the NLRB an “unaccountable and out-of-control agency.” His first South Carolina ad following the Iowa Caucus accused Obama of packing the Board with “union stooges.”
It’s not by accident that South Carolina has become Ground Zero for NLRB-bashing. The South Carolina primary has a reputation as a GOP establishment stronghold, and a hotbed of racial and religious reaction (the two are not exactly contradictory). But Tea-Partying Governor Nikki Haley made clear in April what she’d be judging GOP candidates on. “I would absolutely love to hear what their stance is on the National Labor Relations Board and what they’ve done to Boeing and what they are going to do as head of our country in dealing with these labor unions on right-to-work states,” Haley said after a press conference last April. Expressing “concern” wouldn’t cut it, she warned. “How are you going to stand up for these companies? How are you going to stand up against the unions?” The candidates took the hint. That includes Romney, who made attacks on the NLRB a centerpiece of his successful bid for Haley’s endorsement.
Given South Carolina’s famed success in picking Republican nominees, Haley has played an outsized role in making the NLRB, which has long inspired ambivalence from labor activists and indifference from most Americans, a punching bag for GOP contenders. But that’s not the whole story.
The NLRB was created in 1935 by the National Labor Relations Act (the NLRA, or “Wagner Act”), a New Deal response to a wave of aggressive labor organizing and strikes. The Labor Board is charged with enforcing employers’ and unions’ compliance with the Wagner Act – including the anti-union Taft-Hartley amendments Congress added in 1947. With regional boards whose decisions can be appealed up to the five NLRB members appointed by the president, the NLRB acts in some ways on a parallel track to the main US court system – though the law severely limits the remedies it can use to punish corporate wrong-doing.
Although the Labor Board often fines or forbids unions that seek aggressive action against the 1%, and regularly leaves workers waiting for years to get their jobs back after being fired for organizing, Republicans are on the warpath against the agency. Larry Cohen, President of the Communication Workers of America, says that shows Republicans have become “a party that panders to union-busting,” and “a party of the 1 per cent.”
The NLRB didn’t earn the rage of Romney and company by taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor. It did so through moves – however modest – that could make it easier for the 99% to take away power from the 1%.
Take two modest moves that Haley's helped make lightning rods. One infuriated Republicans by enforcing existing law; another, by improving it.