Biden’s Acting Labor Secretary Su critiques corporate greed
Julie Su testifies before the Senate where Republicans are holding up her permanent appointment because, in their view, she is too strongly pro-labor. | Alex Brandon/AP

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. —It’s a presidential election year, and that means Cabinet secretaries often deviate from official duties to laud their presidential bosses, while the secretaries speak out on the hustings.

Which is what Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su did on January 12 in addressing the AFL-CIO’s Martin Luther King commemorative conference—but with a difference.

She said one aim of President Biden’s pro-union, pro-worker agenda is to combat the corporate greed that particularly has oppressed workers of color.

“Dr. King preached that we cannot have racial justice without economic justice and we cannot have economic justice without racial justice,” Su told the MLK delegates, meeting in Birmingham, Ala. “He dared us to imagine a world in which both exist.

In a different reality

“But for far too long, we’ve been living in a different reality,” Su declared.

“We’ve heard that when workers demand better pay, it’s a threat to our economy and to our prosperity. We’ve been told the massive gap between CEO pay and frontline workers’ pay, where workers have to work for years to make what the CEO makes in an hour is just the natural way of things.

“Not on our watch,” Su promised.

“We’ve heard that people who face racism, marginalization, and other forms of discrimination just need to keep their heads down and keep working harder.

“Not on our watch. In President Biden’s America, we are rewriting that narrative.”

“In Joe Biden’s America,” good jobs with good wages and benefits—such as health care and pensions—“these are not the privileges of a few. These should belong to every family.” And the government‘s job “is to deliver these to every community,” Su said.

Su said that when she sat in as the administration’s representative for big and complex bargaining sessions between workers and bosses—there to help ease the two sides to a settlement—she often “heard corporations say the wage increase you want is too far above the market rate. Above the market rate. My response to that is: Why, instead of telling workers their demands are too high, maybe it’s time we question why the market rate is so low?

“Why should we accept as normal the fact that working people have to work full-time year-round – sometimes multiple jobs – and still not be able to afford to live near where they work?”

Statements like those, and even stronger ones, got Su in trouble with the corporate class. It mounted a fierce but unsuccessful lobbying campaign to stop Biden’s nomination of former California Labor Commissioner Su to become the department’s deputy secretary, its #2 job.

And the corporate class took up the cudgels against Su again when her boss, Marty Walsh, resigned and Biden nominated Su to DOL’s top job. It convinced pro-corporate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to oppose her and Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to refuse to commit to Su.

Those two deadlocked the nomination. The Senate Labor Committee returned it to Biden—and he resubmitted it early this year. No date has been set for another hearing or a vote on it.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.