The votes are still being counted in some places, but the battle for the soul of the new Administration and Congress has begun. Corporate America wasted no time in launching an effort to warn against any initiatives that would be seen as unfriendly to business. The Wall Street Journal is already predicting that Democrats will give in to the pressure and “go slow on controversial labor and regulatory issues.”
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) issued an open letter to Obama pledging to work with the new administration, but that pledge was followed by a dozen pages in which the group outlined its usual agenda of reduced corporate taxes, tort reform, easing of the regulatory “burden,” and so forth . The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was a bit more tactful. Its CEO Thomas Donahue put out a statement vowing to work with Obama and the new Congress “to help quickly restore economic growth,” avoiding for now the more contentious issues.
Not surprisingly, the sharpest battle lines are being drawn on labor law reform. Business has already been mobilizing to fight against proposed legislation—the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)—that would make it easier for workers to organize unions free of employer intimidation. Corporate interests targeted various members of Congress over the EFCA issue during the electoral campaign, to little effect, and undoubtedly intend to keep up the effort. Today NAM President John Engler told the Journal: “This is not the time and this is certainly not the issue with which to build a relationship.”
Someone needs to remind the business lobbies that elections have consequences. When George Bush won reelection four years ago, that same John Engler, speaking for the corporate class, declared: “This will be our moment.” Business Week added: “business groups are already busy claiming considerable credit for Bush’s win. Their wish lists are extensive.” Many of those wishes were granted by Bush and Cheney.
Despite the overblown McCain/Palin rhetoric, Obama did not run as a socialist, but he expressed clear disapproval of the deregulatory agenda. And he accepted extensive help from labor union members, many of whom were motivated by his criticism of corporate excesses and his support (albeit muted) for EFCA.
There may be reasons why the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats have to proceed carefully on regulatory and labor issues, not the least of which is the apparent absence of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Anti-union executives may not soon find themselves bodily removed from office, as Montgomery Ward President Sewell Avery was in 1944 (photo). Yet neither should business interests expect their wish list to be the current center of attention. This is not their moment.