Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Small-Business Tyrant Has a Favorite Political Party. (Jamelle Bouie, NY Times column)

When I was CIO for a small woman-owned local small business here in St. Augustine, the National Federation of Independent Business would send salesman to euchre us into joining.  So my bosses, husband and wife, having a great sense of humor, assigned me to hear the NFIB schpiel. Nothing helpful to small business or their workers.  Just slogans. Republican gibberish.  That's the sort of propaganda that sadly beguiles other small business owners into acting like energumens.  Don't fall for it, my friends,  NFIB is not for you, any more than the Exxon-loving, oligopolist-oriented U.S. Chamber of Commerce (started by President William Howard Taft in the White House as an anti-labor organization).  From The New York Times: 


The Small-Business Tyrant Has a Favorite Political Party

A downtown street scene, with buildings in alternating light and shadow and a person walking alone.
Credit...Matt Black/Magnum Photos

Opinion Columnist

Despite the blue-collar affectations of some of its most visible leaders or the populist rhetoric of its most vocal cheerleaders, it has never been more obvious that the Republican Party is the party of the boss, and in particular the party of the small-business tyrant.

Who or what is the small business tyrant? It’s the business owner whose livelihood rests on a steady supply of low-wage labor; who opposes unions, resents even the most cursory worker protections and employee safety regulations, and who views those workers as little more than extensions of himself, to use as he sees fit.

The small-business tyrant is, to borrow an argument from the writer and podcaster Patrick Wyman, an especially reactionary member of America’s landowning gentry: local economic elites whose wealth comes primarily from their ownership of physical assets. Those assets, Wyman explains, “vary depending on where in the country we’re talking about; they could be a bunch of McDonald’s franchises in Jackson, Mississippi, a beef-processing plant in Lubbock, Texas, a construction company in Billings, Montana, commercial properties in Portland, Maine, or a car dealership in western North Carolina.”

To look at Republican politics at the state level is to see an economic agenda dominated by the worst of this particular class.

Last summer, for example, in the midst of a dangerous heat wave that put thousands of lives at risk, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed a law nullifying local rules requiring water breaks for outdoor workers. The law targeted provisions passed by officials in Austin and Dallas that gave construction workers a 10-minute break every four hours. “For too long, progressive municipal officials and agencies have made Texas small businesses jump through contradictory and confusing hoops,” said Dustin Burrows, the Republican state representative who introduced the bill. Burrows, it should be noted, is a small-business owner himself.

More recent is a Florida bill, signed into law this month by Gov. Ron DeSantis, that similarly forbids local governments from setting heat exposure rules for workers. Backed by business groups, the law also prevents governments from “maintaining a minimum wage other than a state or federal minimum wage.” Even if a city wants one of its vendors to provide a higher wage than the statewide minimum of $12, it can’t. “Small business owners don’t have the time or the resources to navigate a confusing and contradictory array of local ordinances that go beyond” what “the state already mandates,” said Bill Herrle, Florida director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Consider, as well, a Kentucky bill that would, if enacted, eliminate workers’ rights to lunch and rest breaks. Federal labor law does not require employers to offer either. The purpose of this bill — introduced by state Representative Phillip Pratt, a Republican — is to “modernize” Kentucky labor law to match the federal standard, or lack thereof. Pratt, who owns a landscaping business, says that he would continue to offer those breaks.

Earlier this year, Pratt also sponsored a bill to weaken Kentucky’s child labor laws, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to work longer hours. “Our current statutes and regulations unnecessarily restrict the number of hours needed to work, often preventing them from seeking an opportunity to help them pay for college, learn new skills and prepare for the future,” Pratt said. The bill passed in the House and awaits a final vote in the Kentucky Senate.

And last week, in Louisiana, a Republican-led Statehouse committee voted to repeal a law mandating lunch breaks for child workers. Sponsored by state Representative Roger Wilder, who owns multiple Smoothie King franchises across the Deep South, the bill is part of a larger effort to strengthen employers and weaken labor unions in the state. “The wording is ‘We’re here to harm children,’ ” Wilder said, responding to the bill’s critics. “Give me a break. I mean, these are young adults.”

This is just a smattering of examples of an anti-labor political and economic agenda that rests on weakening whatever protections working people might have from their employers. It is of a piece with the continued effort by Republican lawmakers in Congress to slash the social safety net and weaken unions nationwide. And it puts the lie to the idea, circulating among some Republicans in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, that the Republican Party had somehow become a “workers’ party.”

The items on this agenda are not new, but the effort does feel more aggressive than it has in recent memory. And perhaps that has something to do with the fact that the uncontested leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, is himself a kind of small-business tyrant, with a long record of work force exploitation. Put in that context, it does not seem all that remarkable that a boss who stiffs his workers would inspire his political allies to do the same.

There is one other element to the effect that the former president may have on the rest of the Republican Party. Trump is not simply a person who owns a business; he is someone for whom his status as boss is integral to his personal, public and political identity — look no further than his central role on “The Apprentice.” In the role of president, Trump sees himself as boss of the United States.

You cannot blame the authoritarian tendency in contemporary Republican politics on a single person or tie it to a single source. But I do think that the rhetoric and even the aesthetics of that tendency owe quite a bit to the party’s total identification with a man who sees himself as nothing other than the man on top — the one who “alone can fix it.”

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Jamelle Bouie became a New York Times Opinion columnist in 2019. Before that he was the chief political correspondent for Slate magazine. He is based in Charlottesville, Va., and Washington. @jbouie



1 comment:

Sue said...

They should be taxing the shit out of big business and either paying their employees directly since they don't want to, or providing universal healthcare. Small businesses should be left alone. THAT is the way to promote competition and capitalism.