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To Be Like FDR, Joe Biden Must Strengthen Labor

There won’t be a new New Deal without a strategy to get around the filibuster

The place of honor in President Biden’s Oval Office is reserved for a portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. From above the fireplace, FDR looks down upon the efforts of a president whose plans for responding to contemporary challenges facing the United States are frequently compared with those of the 32nd president.

Biden has gone bold, with the $2.3 trillion American Rescue Plan, a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a budget worked out with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders that could spend $3.5 trillion to expand Medicare and Medicaid, establish paid family and medical leave, make community college education free and put people to work with a Climate Corps.

But if Biden is going to recreate the energy, and the sense of possibility, that was associated with the New Deal, he and his Democratic allies have got to press harder to remove barriers to collective bargaining by American workers.

There is no question that Biden is pro-labor. He won with strong union backing, and he’s a booster of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — the PRO Act — which would begin to restore the rights of workers to organize unions and bargain for better wages and benefits. Those rights, which were outlined in the 1930s by FDR and the chair of the Senate subcommittee on the rights of labor, Wisconsin’s Robert M. La Follette Jr., have been under attack for decades.

In historic centers of union strength, such as Wisconsin, so-called “right-to-work” laws have been implemented by Republican governors to undermine the freedom of workers to organize unions. Anti-worker zealot Scott Walker was defeated for reelection in 2018, but the laws he used to attack worker rights remain on the books in Wisconsin, along with similar laws in the majority of American states.

As in FDR’s day, federal action is needed, and that’s the PRO Act. With a strong push from Wisconsin Representatives Mark Pocan, D-Town of Vermont, and Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, the measure passed the House. But it’s stuck in the Senate, where Republicans have blocked action with the same filibuster they are using to prevent democracy reforms.

There won’t be a new New Deal without a strategy to get around the filibuster and enact legislation that strengthens the hand of American workers. As the late AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said before his death on Aug. 5: "The PRO Act would protect and empower workers to exercise our freedom to organize a bargain. It's a game changer. If you really want to correct inequality in this country — wages and wealth inequality, opportunity and inequality of power — passing the PRO Act is absolutely essential to doing that."


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