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Biden Needs Labor; Labor Needs Biden

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I’ve talked a good bit in the media lately about Biden’s support for the Amazon workers in Alabama. Rich Yeselson has a slightly different take that is well worth your time. Basically, Biden needs the energy of labor to push through his agenda and this statement is a piece of the work needed to make it happen. Labor needs to push him to get their agenda. It’s a symbiotic relationship that both understand in a way that Obama never understood.

A more egalitarian and just political system will require a reinvigoration of the Voting Rights Act, which has been gutted by the courts, and a pro-union revision of the National Labor Relations Act, which has typically been amended to discourage workers from organizing. It will also require the elimination of the filibuster, which is the only way Democrats can enact a reform agenda at the moment. To accomplish all this, Biden needs to harness the energy of the pro-labor, social-democratic faction of the Democratic Party, led by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Politico recently reported that labor activists pressured Biden to make a pro-union statement about the Amazon fight and that White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain was at the center of those discussions. Make us do it, Klain seemed to be saying—a far cry from when Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was quoted as saying, “Fuck the UAW!”

Labor organizers have other reasons for hope. On the first day of his presidency, Biden fired the union-busting lawyer Trump had installed as general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. A son of the conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia served as Trump’s secretary of labor. Biden’s nominee for that job is Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a reformist former leader of that city’s Building Trades Union. For the second-highest position in the department, Biden tapped Julie Su, who, as California’s labor secretary, has been highly critical of the misclassification of workers as independent contractors. Biden’s pick to run the Occupational Safety and Health Administration previously worked for the United Steelworkers’ workplace-safety department.

Now Biden has committed his support publicly to the highest-profile union drive in the country—a sign that he understands how fighting for workers’ rights could yield a more equitable country. The labor left of the Democratic Party, and the labor movement itself, must make him do it.

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