So, here we go, the Joseph R. Biden Administration. Though the people occupying the White House have changed, I will be writing about the Biden administration with the same directness I did with the previous occupant. I will criticize and condemn when need be. I will give props when it is warranted and rare praise when it is deserved. Mostly though, I will analyze, explain, and comment on the administration’s policy proposals and actions, without generalizations, predictions, or guesswork. I won’t fill in blanks or make assumptions. I will avoid false hope and cynicism. And, as usual, I will point out opportunities for change and encourage you to engage.
Obviously, the presidency and legislature are in a much different place than they were a week ago. Even before Biden dropped his hand from the Bible, we knew that the new administration’s competency level and seriousness dwarfed that of the last occupant, and that the former ruler’s arrogance, pettiness and cruelty would follow him out of the White House and into that gaudy piece of real estate he calls home.
No honest person doubts that the last guy left Biden a fucking mess. There are the obvious disasters – the pandemic, the economy, the far-right, bad cops, racism, climate change, etc. – as well as a bunch of half-assed, unfinished jobs and projects, such as whatever the hell the policy was in Iraq, whatever the hell the policy was in Afghanistan, whatever the hell the policy was with China, whatever the hell the policy was with North Korea, and other things that suffered from the former occupant’s lack of focus, discipline and intelligence.
Jumbo set every bar so low that Biden just has to say “You’re welcome” to a “Thank you” and the country will cheer. This presents some problems. One, things that should be done as a matter of fact, such as taking the pandemic seriously, will get more praise than deserved. Two is that real accomplishments, like repairing the fucking mess that the last guys left, will be dismissed as something that is to be expected. Also, unflashy but significant moves on unsexy issues will be ignored or drowned out. I am going to focus on one such move that happened Wednesday night.
While the country was either watching the Inauguration special on TV or scouring the ‘net for Q breadcrumbs, Biden gave National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) general counsel Peter Robb an ultimatum: Resign or be fired. Robb refused to resign. An hour later, he was fired. Here is why this is significant:
Peter Robb was a Trump appointee with 10 months left on his term, yet he was fired. Almost always, incoming administrations let political appointees from the prior administration, who are serving fixed terms, complete their tenure. When a new administration removes someone by forced resignation or firing, it is usually after a few months, when the appointee has proven not to be a team player or stumbles into scandal. It is very, very, very rare for the new president tell someone to “Get. The. Fuck. Out.” on the first day of the job.
Second, Biden fired Robb without consulting the Republicans, specifically those who chair or serve on committees that oversee the NLRB. Biden wanted Robb out, he knew he could fire him, he knew that Republicans would scream about betrayal and disunity, he knew Robb and the GOP would threaten legal action, and, yet, he fired Robb with no hesitation.
Third, while we don’t talk much about the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB is a significant institution. Created in 1935, by FDR, the NLRB enforces labor laws, particular those regarding unfair/unsafe working conditions and collective bargaining. When there are disputes over contracts or the forming of a union or bargaining unit, the NLRB hears them. Because NLRB decisions often stand as precedent, where the NLRB comes down in a dispute is often more consequential than policy set by the Labor Department.
Obviously, Republicans, Wall Street, and corporate America hate the NLRB. For decades, they tried to destroy it. Having failed, they try to co-opt it. One of the first thing nearly every Republican president does once in office is stack the NLRB with pro-business tools, tools such as Peter Robb.
Robb came to prominence in 1981 when he helped build President Reagan’s legal case against striking air traffic controllers represented by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO). For years, PATCO had been at the government to give controllers decent pay and better working conditions, emphasizing that overworked, underpaid, stressed out air traffic controllers were a huge public safety risk. Stymied by the Reagan administration, more than 11 thousand controllers went on strike. Reagan gave them 48-hours to go back to work and when they refused, he fired all 11,359 of them. PATCO was destroyed. Robb was one of the people who made this happen.
The PATCO strike and Reagan’s mass firing is a huge event in the history of working people. Reagan’s destruction of PATCO was the first major blow in the Republican war against labor. Knowing that the Reagan administration would back them up, employers started trashing labor contracts and ignoring work rules looking to provoke strikes. If besieged union workers walked off the job, the bosses felt free to lock them out or fire them, with the goal of busting their unions. The strategy worked. Union membership, which was already on a slow decline, plummeted.
After his run in the Reagan administration, Robb retreated to the private sector, representing the bosses in labor disputes. He also served as legal counsel to conservative, pro-corporate NLRB members. When the former president took office, he appointed Robb as NLRB general counsel, where among other things, Robb championed Uber and other tech companies classifying workers as independent contractors.
No surprise that one of labor’s top priorities was getting rid of Peter Robb. Biden, who ran on a promise to be the most pro-labor president ever, delivered and fired Robb. Whomever, replaces Robb not only be a drastic improvement, but a very consequential person. This is why:
The NLRB has the power, through its decisions, to do more than shape labor policy. Every move that the NLRB makes determines how generous the environment is labor organizers and unions. Under Republican presidents – Reagan, Bush, Bush, and The Fool – unions fight not just the bosses, but also the government. Under a Democrat, they have a freer hand to organize.
So, let’s say Biden and the Democrats engineer the switch from dirty power to renewable energy. According to Scientific American, over a 30-year span, a Green New Deal would create 160 million new jobs. This begs the question: Will these jobs be higher paying union jobs or will corporations keep wages low? The dream of 160 million high paying union job becomes much closer to reality with a worker-friendly NLRB.
Additionally, such a large increase in new union jobs would have a profound impact on income inequality and the distribution of wealth. Instead of a green economy benefiting mostly shareholders and the 1%, as it would under a Republican, under a labor-friendly administration, the majority of money generated by new union jobs would go into the workers’ pockets. Unlike the wealthy, who tend to horde their money, worker’s would spend their earnings on stuff, on education, and on creating small businesses.
Because many of the taxes we pay are in the form of fees, sales tax, and sin taxes, the public coffers would get a boost. Instead of money, being shipped out of town, worker wages and spending, as well as local fees and taxes, would keep a lot of the money in town or state. All of this should result in a strong general – or people’s – economy.
I don’t want to make too much of one move, but Biden firing Robb without consulting the “other side of the aisle,” his bold pandemic bailout plan, his immigration plan, and many of his first executive orders (especially those concerning civil rights), suggest that Biden’s version bipartisanship is going to happen on his terms, which seems to be “I will do what is right. When need be, I will work with the other side, but not by their rules. I will not put up with their lies or bad faith or constant moving of the goal posts. Compromise for the sake of compromise is out.”
Robb was not the only MAGA appointee to be shoved out. A whole alphabet of agencies saw MAGAs walking out of buildings, file boxes full of filth and family portraits in hand. Biden is paying very close attention to who staffs even minor positions in his administration. Firing Robb and forcing out others isn’t just a shift in policy. Biden is doing a deep clean. He is very much aware of the damage that can be done by MAGA moles. He knows that these people are hidden traps and time bombs, so he is taking care of the problem. Note that he isn’t going after Republicans because they are Republicans. He is targeting MAGA partisan, political appointees who have been placed in government in order to sabotage his administration.
Going forward we will be tempted to focus on the big stuff, especially sexy solutions to real problems, such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. These proposals are important, but making them reality is difficult and involves a lot of persistent, consistent grassroots organizing, something which has not happened, at least at the level it needs to.
I know that these are popular policy proposals, but that is not enough. Great poll numbers mean little if the numbers do not translate into action. We can have 10 million people saying “Yes!” with 5 million yelling “No!” That’s a great start, but, if a public official calls a meeting and only 2 million Yes-ers bother to show up to face 3 million No-ers, and the No’s have $5 million of dirty money behind them, well, those are the numbers that matter.
What I am saying is this: Great change takes a great number of people doing great work over a great period of time. It absolutely can happen, but what also can happen is change on a smaller level, in places that we too often ignore, such as the NLRB or your local planning department. These venues are much easier to fight in for they take less people and resources. Success at this level creates a foundation for future change. And, as I illustrated with the NLRB, simple policy decisions or shift in politics in these agencies can have a profound impact downstream.
In four years, I will look back at how Biden did on the big issues, measured against how strong both the proponents for change and the opposition were. However, I will also add up the “small” stuff, such as how many progressive executive orders survived court challenges (something that the last guy failed miserably at) or what impact seemingly minor rules changes had on student debt or corporate fraud. I will look at what we the people did to force these changes and move this stuff along. Was our “activism” talking shit on social media or did we get out from behind our screens and do the real work necessary to create change.
That is tomorrow. Today is today and today we are talking about what happened this week. Robb’s firing was one move, but an important, substantial and potentially significant one. There’s been some good proposals and righteous executive orders. It was great to see Anthony Fauci unchained. We will see what happens next. And remember, when stuff like this happens, we need to give the administration props and encourage them to do more. We also must ride their ass to keep them on this path. As noted, Republicans are not pleased with Robb’s firing or anything Biden’s done in the last few days. They are being vocal. We must raise our voices in support and drown theirs out. Let’s leave nothing to fate or chance. Our time is now.