The supreme court has taken a sledgehammer to the New Deal

supreme court

Of the three decisions the US supreme court handed down this week, the gay wedding cake case and travel ban cases were the latest battles in the culture wars that Republicans long have waged. The Janus decision declaring that public sector employees cannot be required to pay fees to the unions that represent them went beyond culture to the very meaning of the American government and how Republicans define it.

Since the 1930s, when then president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised to break the hold of moneyed men on the government and broker “a new deal for the American people”, a cabal of reactionaries resolved to destroy the new government Democrats created. Roosevelt’s New Deal regulated business, protected social welfare and promoted national infrastructure on the principle that the role of government was not simply to protect the property of the wealthy, but rather was to promote equality of opportunity for all. The popularity of both Roosevelt and his agenda showed that Americans recognized that the government must rein in the runaway capitalism that had brought the nation to its knees.

But not everyone was on board. A group of reactionary Republicans sided not with the cosmopolitan eastern Republicans who came around to the New Deal but with Ohio senator Robert Taft, a proud representative of small-town, traditional America who maintained that the New Deal undermined liberty and snaked socialism into the nation. They hated government rules and laws that protected their workers, and the need for new taxes to pay for bureaucrats and welfare programs. Above all, they rejected the idea that workers should have a say equal to theirs in what the government did. They loathed the Wagner Act, which empowered workers to unionize and bargain collectively.

The “completely one-sided” Wagner Act, they complained, enabled labor leaders to challenge business leaders. In 1947, when Republicans regained control of Congress, their first step in their quest to roll back the New Deal was to weaken the political power of unions. The Taft-Hartley Act outlawed closed union shops and weakened union political activism. It passed over then president Harry Truman’s veto.

Taft-Hartley seemed destined to be the last gasp of reaction in the…

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