The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Ergonomics rules defeated by both parties

Mar 19, 2001

In March, both the Senate and House defeated ergonomic standards for repetitive motion injuries. Clinton had issued them at the end of his Administration. John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, said in response to the House and Senate's repeal, that this was another proof of the Bush-Republican Administration's not being on the side of labor and its disregard for the health and safety of America's working families. Sweeney is indeed right about the Republicans. But this is only half the truth.

The other half relates to what the Democrats did –or didn't do about that same question. During Bill Clinton's first term in office, with the Democrats a clear majority in the House and Senate, the Democrats never raised the issue of ergonomics standards. Their excuse was that more time was needed to study the problem –while under their very eyes each year over half-a million workers who work at computers and in meat and poultry industries have suffered from work-related repetitive motion injuries. The possibilities existed then and there to enact and begin the implementation of ergonomics standards.

The delay went on for 8 years. (Interestingly, as far back as 10 years ago, Republican Elizabeth Dole, as Secretary of Labor, had recommended ergonomics standards.) Clinton waited until

mid-November to issue standards –and very minimal standards at that. He could have implemented them immediately, thus giving himself the time to veto any attempt by Congress –which had only 60 days to overturn them, if he were serious about wanting them to go into effect. Instead he delayed the date for the standards to be effective until January 16, putting the responsibility of an overturn upon the Bush Administration. This was a calculated move on Democrat Clinton's part to ensure the standards would not go into effect, while making it appear that only the Republicans were "anti-labor."

The charade by the Democrats carried over into the Bush administration. In the Senate, with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, the Republicans held solid in opposing the standards; while six Democrats joined the repeal vote. The Democrats made no effort to instill unity within their Party. And they agreed to limit debate and filibusters, making it impossible for them to block repeal. After the vote was concluded, Senator Ted Kennedy had the gall to act outraged! "This is special interest legislation," he proclaimed –only to call for a 2 to 3 month period of "re-examining" the problem.

Clearly neither party is about to set and implement policies that might force the bosses to spend money and make necessary changes that could begin to deal with ergonomic problems.

To point a finger at the Republicans while ignoring the Democrats, as Sweeney and other union officials do, is to reinforce the bosses by blinding the working class from seeing all its political enemies.