In one of the first moves of the soon-to-be Democratic Majority in the House of Representatives, Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott has been elected Chair of the newly christened House Education and Labor Committee.
Yes, you read that right: (Re)Introducing the House Education and Labor Committee.
The House Education and Workforce Committee is no more.
What’s in a name? A lot. It means that the committee will once again be addressing the needs of working people rather than just their employers.
Now some of you old-timers may be having déjà vu all over again. And for good reason.
In 1995, when the Republicans took over the House of Representatives after decades in the diaspora, they changed the name from the Committee on Education and Labor to the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Then, after Democrats retook the House in 2006, they changed the name back to “Education and Labor.” In 2011, when the Republicans regained the throne, they duly changed it back to “Workforce” yet again.
After the 2007 changeback, I cited an article by the late New York Times columnist William Safire who explained that the term “Labor” is so objectionable to the delicate Republicans because it conjures up frightening images of “Big Labor” and dreaded unions who support evil Democrats. Better to go over the labor bosses’ heads to all workers, including those not represented by unions.
If Labor was to be replaced, then with what? Not workers; that word is associated with socialism (International Workers of the World (sic), or “wobblies”) and communism (in its manifesto, “Workers of the World — Unite”). But there was another term, coined in 1931, during what revisionist Republicans considered the unfairly maligned Hoover administration: workforce. Most dictionaries gave it two senses (and make it two words): “all employees collectively, or those doing work in a particular firm or industry.”
Expect the Chamber of Commerce to complain that the name change means that the Committee will once again be doing the bidding of the evil labor bosses.
And what are the evil labor bosses advocating? A fair minimum wage, fair and meaningful immigration reform, affordable health care, secure retirement and social security, workplace fairness, better pay and benefits, an end to sexual harassment in the workplace, safer and healthier workplaces — and respect for all workers.
If that’s what putting the word “labor” back into the committee title symbolizes, I’m all for it.