With each cabinet appointment, the question looms larger; was “the swamp” that Donald Trump threatened to drain one of incompetence and corruption, or was it actually our democracy that he had his sights on?
Recent cabinet appointments are proving that governing a democratic society, whose founding documents call for the promotion of the general welfare and insuring domestic tranquility, seems as far from Trump’s thoughts as advocating a better future for labor was from Puzder’s record. Despite promising to cut a better deal for working Americans, Trump nominated a labor secretary whose record showed nothing but contempt for those very workers.
Progressive activists, and common sense, succeeded in bringing down Puzder’s nomination. His replacement Alexander Acosta certainly is an improvement, but we can’t become complacent. In his first month in office Trump has done a great deal for CEO’s, oil companies, and Wall Street, but almost nothing for working Americans.
Our economy is changing. The technological shift of seismic proportions, caused by millions of jobs being replaced by computers and other forms of AI, requires a labor secretary and a president who will actually fight for American workers, not just make empty speeches.
The Department of Labor was established “to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the working people, to improve their working conditions, and to advance their opportunities for profitable employment.” It was a department, as its first Secretary wrote, created “in the interest of the wage earners” to be administered in fairness to labor, businesses and the public at large.
Through the decades, this “labor voice of the Cabinet” has often been run by visionaries who helped the country confront and overcome some of its greatest challenges, from eradicating the gruesome working conditions of the early 1900’s to the relief programs of the Great Depression, (including Social Security), from training and employment programs to voluntary wage and price guidelines.
The industrial leaders who helped define the work ethic and values of the United States often cite the employee as the most critical part of their business enterprise. As John Marriott said, “when you take good care of your people, they will take pride in their work and take good care of the customers. If you take good care of the customers, they will come back, and the business will take care of itself.” This matter of caring about “your people” is crucial. Our country’s economy is facing unprecedented technological disruption, and we need a labor secretary who will be a champion for working people.
Appointing a man who was anti-union, anti-regulation, and opposed to a decent minimum wage invited Foxy Loxy to guard the chicken house. But even with Puzder gone, we don’t know much about Acosta’s commitment to the true mission of the Department of Labor.
It’s certainly a start to know that he’s not as adamantly opposed to the core duties of the position as Puzder was, but his willingness to fight for workers is still very much in question. His boss is still the man whose first choice was Andrew Puzder, is it a stretch to assume that Trump may pressure Acosta to act in ways that help big business but hurt workers? If that happens, will Acosta stand up to him? These aren’t empty questions. The livelihoods of millions depend on the actions of the secretary of labor, and he must be held to the highest possible standard.
This is a critical time for the workers of America, especially the many blue-collar workers who voted for Trump. He already let down those workers once by nominating an anti-labor business executive who describes automation as a “welcome development.” While Acosta is an improvement over Andrew Puzder, Puzder’s nomination in the first place is a troubling signal of President Trump’s real intentions. Puzder was defeated, but we must remain vigilant to ensure that Trump’s irresponsible and dangerous pattern of behavior does not continue to threaten or harm the American worker.