Robert Reich: This Is How Biden Shows Whose Side He’s On – OpEd


Let me begin with a question: Why isn’t Joe Biden calling out Starbucks, along with its billionaire founder and recent CEO Howard Schultz, for its fierce union-busting campaign? 

(Also, for that matter, Reed Hastings’s Netflix for its refusal to treat its writers better, fueling the writers’ strike? And, very soon, Jeff Bezos’s Amazon, for its refusal to pay truckers more, fueling the UPS strike? And Elon Musk for firing three-quarters of Twitter’s workers?)

Sometimes there’s no better way for a president to communicate what they represent than to say whom they’re opposed to and why.

Exhibit A is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech on October 31, 1936, in Madison Square Garden, while running for a second term: 

“In 1932 …. we had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”

If “Bidenomics” is to be understood as more than a bunch of technocratic policies, Biden has got to be seen to be on the side of workers — including young baristas trying to organize their workplaces — and squarely against people like Schultz, a billionaire Democratic fundraiser who supported Biden in 2020 but detests unions.

Starbucks Workers United has won union elections in more than 300 Starbucks stores since December 2021, covering more than 8,000 workers — and won most by overwhelming margins — gaining between 70 and 80 percent of the total votes cast so far, and in parts of the country where private sector unions rarely win.

Its campaign against Starbucks has inspired young workers across the country and breathed life into a labor movement whose official leadership has sometimes appeared out of touch with a new generation of labor activists.

But Starbucks has refused even to bargain a first union contract. And to discourage further unionization, Starbucks has fired scores of pro-union workers, closed stores that have unionized, threatened to withhold wage and benefit improvements from stores considering unionizing, and packed them with new workers and outside managers.

In response, the National Labor Relations Board has issued more than 93 complaints covering 328 unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks and ordered reinstatement of at least 23 fired workers.

This is an opportunity for Biden, who calls himself the “most pro-union president in American history,” to send a powerful message: Howard Schultz and his Starbucks are a disgrace. Biden will not abide union-busting by Starbucks or any other corporation — including Elon Musk’s Tesla and Jeff Bezos’s Amazon.

I know, I know: Biden wants to heal America rather than pick fights. (And the Democratic Party wants to keep corporate campaign donations rolling in, especially now that CEOs are increasingly reluctant to finance Trump.)

But a president is understood not just through the allies they make but for the enemies they skewer. 

It’s time for Biden and the Democrats to show whose side they’re on by denouncing union-busting billionaires, such as Howard Schultz and Starbucks — as well as Reed Hastings’s Netflix, Jeff Bezos’s Amazon, and Elon Musk’s Twitter.

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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