The Signal this week is clearly Trump’s impeachable actions in strong-arming Ukraine’s president to investigate the Biden family. The Noise is the effort by Trump and his shameless GOP enablers to turn this into a story about Biden.
But there are plenty of other people writing about this. And this story is going to balloon in the coming weeks. So for today I’ll focus on another Signal: labor rights.
The National Labor Relations Board, stacked with conservative appointees, is about to unveil a rule change locking in place a definition of graduate students that reclassifies them as not being workers. It will be the fourth time since 2000 that the NLRB has changed its position on this—but the current reversion is a particularly naked attempt to roll back the huge gains in unionization on campuses in recent years, and to prevent future unionizing efforts at private colleges. It could undermine negotiations that Harvard and other major private universities have been pushed into with thousands of poorly paid graduate students following elections to unionize in recent years.
Not satisfied with taking a gratuitous swipe at low-paid students, the administration is now siding with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association—which has made a decades-long name for itself in California defending Proposition 13 of 1978 and other retrograde tax measures—against the Golden State’s recent efforts to set up auto-IRAs, which are savings accounts for those with no employer-backed retirement plan. There are 7.5 million such workers in California. The law is hardly revolutionary: It simply requires employers to set up payroll deductions of between 3 and 5 percent for employees, unless employees opt out of the system. Its intent is to promote good habits when it comes to workers’ savings for retirement.
One would think supporting such laws would be a no-brainer. Instead, the administration announced this week that it is opposing California’s law, and by extension similar laws that several other states have implemented or are planning to implement.
Follow the money: This administration is all about enriching slash-and-burn-style businesses at the expense of low-income workers and consumers. This is the same administration, after all, that has gone out of its way to turn the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau into a vehicle to protect payday lenders and that has waged war on the student loan forgiveness program.
The NLRB’s extraordinary anti-union efforts are more of the same. They are about making workers more vulnerable and more insecure, as are the administration’s relentless efforts to roll back the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion—because the more insecure that people at the bottom of the economy are, the easier they are to bully and exploit.
Which is why the other Signal story for labor this week is the GM strike, with nearly 50,000 workers demanding a better contract. Kaiser Permanente health workers in several states are also about to walk off the job. And, in the wake of teachers’ strikes in a number of states, recent polling shows public support for unions at 64 percent—the highest, except for a few blips, in half a century.
These are important developments. Labor is finally stirring. And Americans are on to the fact that Trump’s faux populism is actually all about rigging the game in favor of the wealthy.