July 9, 2012 By Jack Jodell
From its very inception in 1912, as a counterbalance to the then-nascent labor movement in this country , the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has opposed the creation of labor unions and therefore the betterment of living standards for American workers. Created as a non-government lobbying entity by then-President William Howard Taft at a meeting of business leaders, this group has gone on to thwart many initiatives favored by labor, at a great cost to American workers. Taft, supposedly the last progressive Republican president, unwittingly unleashed a virulently anti-worker force through his illogical action. No wonder Teddy Roosevelt grew furious with Taft and tried to wrest the Republican presidential nomination away from him that year – Taft had betrayed the very nature of Roosevelt’s progressivism by siding with big business like that!
The Chamber originally tried to be supportive of both political parties. It supported Democrat Woodrow Wilson in his creation of the Federal Reserve Board in 1913 as well as the creation of the Federal Trade Commission. In 1927, after an appeal from Republican President Calvin Coolidge, it helped raise $1,750,000 for flood relief in several ravaged southern states. By 1933, the country was steeped in the Great Depression, and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt had begun to implement the New Deal. The Chamber supported his budget and banking initiatives. The next year, however, it strongly opposed Democratic Senator Robert Wagner’s efforts to allow labor unions to legally organize workers. This group supported both of Ronald Reagan’s tax-cut plans, and in 1988 came out in favor of an early free trade agreement between the U.S. and Canada, the first of many more to come, all of which ended up hurting American workers. The Chamber supported Bill Clinton’s initial health care reform plan, which was never passed, as well as George W. Bush’s ridiculous tax cuts for the wealthy, along with President Obama’s 2009 bailout plan. But in recent years, this body has veered sharply rightward – so much so, in fact, that it scarcely resembles its former self.
The man responsible for this rightward shift has been its current President and CEO, Thomas Donohue. This man has helped transform the Chamber into the country’s largest lobbying organization. A hardcore and bitterly far-right proponent of unrestricted, “free market” capitalism, he has urged the Chamber to support numerous free trade measures, as well as opposing the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Indeed, in 2011 this supposedly nonpartisan group hosted a “GOP Holiday Party” to honor the Republican National Committee!
Donohue has directed the Chamber to come out in great favor of corporate personhood, and therefore strongly supports the Extreme Court’s badly-flawed Citizens United decision. This, of course, has enabled billionaires to flood Republican candidates’ coffers with cash in unlimited as well as undisclosed amounts, giving them a clear, unfair advantage. In 2010, the Chamber spent over $32 MILLION on donations to political campaigns, an appalling 93% of which went to conservative Republican and Tea Party candidates! There is no sign of a let-up in sight for this year’s elections either. The Chamber has saddled up with the fossil fuel industry to oppose anti-pollution and anti-climate change legislation. It also has taken a stand which opposes financial regulation, even though it was financial DEregulation which caused our current Great Recession. Allegations have been made by MoveOn.org, Think Progress, and People for the American Way, that the Chamber has used monies coming from its foreign-based members for political use, and these groups have been pressing the Justice Department to begin a criminal investigation. Such an action would have been unthinkable a generation ago. But that was before the horribly ideological Donohue entered the picture. His actions and blatant political advocacy have damaged this institution.
Increasing numbers of Chamber members have criticized the organization for being far too aggressive in pursuit of its favored policies and for opposing others, notably climate change. Since Donohue took control, Apple, Inc., PNM Resources, Exxon Corp., and PG & E Corp. have all withdrawn their membership. The Chairman of PG & E commented, “We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling…in our view, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges is quite another.”
This blogger agrees completely, even as the pig-headed Donohue presses on with his ruthlessly blatant anti-climate change, anti-labor, pro-outsourcing agenda. His stubborn and misguided, defiant rigidity is turning the Chamber of Commerce into a Chamber of horrors!