April 8 was the “National Day of Action for the PRO Act.” The AFL-CIO mobilized to bombard U.S. senators with phone calls demanding they pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. This legislation, passed by the House in March for a second time, would go a long way to advance union success in organizing drives, collective bargaining and strikes. (See details at workers.org/2021/03/55082/)
The PRO Act bans captive audience meetings — or “classes,” as Amazon calls the mandatory propaganda sessions it used to defeat the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s organizing effort in Bessemer, Alabama.
The PRO Act would undo major portions of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, a union-busting law that has hamstrung organized labor for almost three quarters of a century.
It contains many other important features. While some elements of the PRO Act warrant improvement, organized labor sorely needs it to reverse an era of setbacks that began when President Ronald Reagan broke the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) back in 1981.
President Joe Biden has promised to sign the bill if it passes the Senate. But despite a phone blitz, hopes are not high that labor can get the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster — a process that makes it almost impossible to pass anything by a simple democratic majority. Nor is it likely Senate Democrats will scrap the filibuster altogether, which they could legally do.
But are Biden’s hands tied? Absolutely not!
PRO is a go — by executive order
There are three branches of government — or so we’ve been taught since grade school: the legislative, the judiciary and the executive (the president).
The Constitution gives policy-making powers to all three branches. The president’s tool kit consists of executive orders. Biden has passed 38 bills on a range of issues since his inauguration in January.
Executive orders can have far-reaching ramifications. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued over 3,700, including the order to create the Works Progress Administration that brought masses of unemployed back to work during the Great Depression. The most famous executive order was President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to abolish chattel slavery.
Today’s wage slaves need the PRO Act to challenge the tyranny of Taft-Hartley and misnamed “right-to-work” laws. Historically, these anti-labor laws particularly targeted unions that united Black and white workers in the Jim Crow South.
Biden — who as a candidate bragged he would be “the strongest labor president you have ever had”— has no excuse not to enact PRO by executive order. But if the class struggle does not push him, as it pushed FDR in the 1930s, he will invent any bogus justification for sidestepping the issue.
The vote against a union at Amazon was a blow, but no cause for retreat in the face of adversity. No “Biden” time — seize the moment! Let’s start a mass, struggle-oriented campaign to demand Biden enact the PRO Act by executive order.
As the United Farm Workers so bravely exclaimed years ago, ¡Sí se puede! Yes, it can be done!