Read Ed’s post yesterday for background on this odd, unprincipled, but era-befitting stance from Rubio, which he’s now pushing in online videos. Dan Foster ably summarized his position with the infamous words of Oscar Benavides: “For my friends, everything. For my enemies, the law.”
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 13, 2021
Rubio’s spent the four and a half months since Election Day crowing that Trump’s gains among minorities mean the GOP is now a multiracial, multiethnic working-class party. A pro-union stance would be in keeping with that. But his stance isn’t pro-union; it’s anti-woke with unionization as a cudgel. He *could* take a principled pro-labor position by siding with the union’s demands for better pay and benefits on the merits. Or he could take the traditional Republican position that workers should have the freedom to decide whether they want to join a union or not. Instead he’s taking a contingent position — and he’s handing management control of the contingency. So long as the company takes care not to cross Rubio’s red line for “wokeness,” he’ll take sides against labor.
In other words, the self-styled blue-collar populist is treating populist labor policy as mere leverage in a higher-priority culture war. He’ll sacrifice the working man’s bottom line to the greater good of checking Amazon’s left-wing bias in deciding which books to stock. Placing culture above economics is consistent with Republican political priorities of this era, as is the transactional nature of his approach. There’s no pretense made in the clip about whether Amazon’s workers organizing is good or bad morally or economically. His interest in the subject is purely as a means to some other ideological end. If you were an Amazon employee trying to decide whether to ally with lefty populists or righty ones like Rubio, how would you feel about the possibility that the GOP might barter away your rights at a moment’s notice in exchange for Amazon promising to stock all of Dr. Seuss’s books or whatever?
But maybe there’s method to his madness:
It could be that Rubio is playing a long game, looking for ways to soften up conservative opinion towards organized labor. The process of becoming a “working-class party” won’t happen overnight. He may be looking at the standoff between Amazon management and labor in Alabama and imagining it as a way to get the camel’s nose under the GOP tent. Convince righties to side with labor in this case for reasons of “anti-wokeness” and maybe they’ll be more willing to side with labor in disputes with management where the company’s bias towards the right isn’t at issue. Likewise, by signaling to unions that he’s open to supporting them against business under certain conditions, Rubio’s incentivizing them (in theory) to oppose “woke” company policies. He’s trying to make the right a little more pro-labor and labor a little more pro-right.
But how likely is that? How far would the American right need to go to make itself more attractive for organized labor than the socialist left, a movement whose entire reason for being (again, in theory) is to empower workers at the expense of capital? Whom does Rubio imagine is bankrolling many of the left’s wokest initiatives? By extending labor’s political power, he risks making progressivism’s money machine run even more efficiently than it already does.
If he’s serious about competing with Democrats for labor’s support then he should own it. Back Amazon’s workers unconditionally instead of trying to be “a little bit pregnant” by hinging his solidarity on the company’s policies. As it is, he ends up in a position guaranteed to make him and like-minded populist Republicans unappealing to both sides of the dispute. Labor will view him as an undependable ally, someone who can be bought off easily by management throwing him a culture-war bone. And management will view him suspiciously, wondering how long it might be before Rubio’s pro-labor stance is no longer contingent on a company’s “wokeness.” That’s an awkward place to be politically when you’re trying to establish yourself as an influential voice in labor standoffs.
The essential weirdness of the clip is that it ends up doing the opposite of what it intends to do. The obvious takeaway Rubio’s aiming for is “Republican senator sides with labor,” a way to signal that the “new GOP” cares about the working class. At the end he describes Amazon’s unionizing workers as “hardworking Americans who just want to get paid a little more and have better work conditions,” a formulation worthy of any labor sympathizer. But the actual takeaway is Rubio naming his price for selling labor out. If he can force Amazon to make some concessions in the right’s culture war against Big Tech, he’s willing to retract his solidarity with the company’s employees. That’s a weird value hierarchy for a politician trying to brand himself and his party as blue-collar.