Conservatives are having a tough time doing their favorite thing: getting mad. Joe Biden has so far been a media-shy president — and when he does speak publicly, he tends to avoid hot-button cultural issues. Compared to Donald Trump’s endless parade of inflammatory insanity, it’s downright boring. So conservative media is scraping the bottom of the culture war barrel to find more outrages. Of late, Fox News has had multi-day panic attacks over children’s books, an elementary misreading of a corporate press release about a plastic potato toy, and women being allowed to join the military.
That might be one reason why Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) is trying to open a new front in the culture war — on unions. He published an op-ed in USA Today on Friday endorsing the union drive of Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer Alabama.
Good for him! But I’ve got a much better suggestion for congressional Republicans if they really want to own the woke corporate libs: vote for the PRO Act, a sweeping overhaul of labor law to help workers, which recently passed the House, and will concretely help workers a million times more than all the op-eds ever published.
One one level, it is genuinely shocking to see a prominent Republican endorsing a union drive. Unions are perhaps the bête noire of the conservative movement, and major Republican figures haven’t been even mildly pro-labor since before the Reagan era (when he inaugurated an all-out assault on the working class by smashing the air traffic controllers’ union).
But on another, Rubio’s argument is hilariously tangled. He knows that the rapacious oligarchs who fund the GOP in general, and his political campaigns in particular, hate unions with the fire of a thousand suns. He knows that he’s breaking with decades of conservative orthodoxy. And he knows that the hogs in the conservative base basically don’t care at all about the exploitation of workers in comparison to sucking down the latest swill from conservative media’s slop bucket of imaginary grievances.
Thus in an entirely typical piece of mealy-mouthed timidity, Rubio backs into supporting the union entirely on culture war grounds. He doesn’t even endorse the idea of unions in theory — on the contrary, he straight-up says they are bad: “Republicans have rightly understood the dangers posed by the unchecked influence of labor unions. Adversarial relations between labor and management are wrong. They are wrong for both workers and our nation’s economic competitiveness.” He doesn’t support the PRO Act for the same reason — it might lead to labor conflict.
We might ask Amazon drivers if they felt like there have been “adversarial relations” when management forces them to work 14-hour days so strictly scheduled they carry around a bottle to pee in.
No, Rubio supports unions if and only if they can be used as a weapon against the supposedly-woke libs among Amazon executives: “Here’s my standard: When the conflict is between working Americans and a company whose leadership has decided to wage culture war against working-class values, the choice is easy — I support the workers,” he says. Given the complaints he cites, apparently “working-class values” means that Amazon should be forced to publish transphobic books, or allow racist charities to use its platform. Conversely, he is also making an implicit threat against corporate executives: get back on the Republican grievance wagon, or he will back worker organizing.
All in all, it is a laughably inept move from Rubio. It is patently unconvincing rhetorical support that adds nothing to what Biden and other Democrats have already done to support the Amazon workers’ union drive.
However, though Rubio is far too cowardly to seize it, there may be a genuine political opportunity for Republicans here. There probably are a non-trivial number of Democratic voters who are annoyed by social justice liberalism but support the party on economic grounds. Insofar as corporate executives cynically seize on a cored-out version of social justice politics as a replacement for material benefits — like forcing their multiracial workforce to attend White Fragility struggle sessions instead of giving them better pay and benefits — this group will surely grow.
Biden has greatly strengthened Democrats’ labor credibility by being the most overtly pro-union president in decades. But the PRO Act will die in the Senate unless moderate Democratic senators support filibuster reform, which so far is nowhere in sight. If enough Senate Republicans came out in favor of the PRO Act (it would take 10 of them), they could rightly claim substantial credit for getting it through, and perhaps start peeling away the social justice-skeptical members of the Democratic base. The woke libs that Republicans assure us run all Fortune 500 companies would be well and truly owned.
Doing so would take some courage, because it would alienate the Republican donor class. But Trump’s 2016 run proved that a Republican can throw capitalist orthodoxy out the window and still win — the base won’t care in the slightest, and indeed can replace much of the lost money from oligarchs with small donations. Conversely, when Trump ran a Mitt Romney-style campaign in 2020, with a record of tax cuts for the rich and attacking the minimum wage, he got rinsed. And indeed, five House Republicans actually did vote for the PRO Act when it passed the house.
What do you say, Lisa Murkowski? Josh Hawley? Bueller?