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Class Warfare is what the Chamber of Commerce is waging across the US, and in Grand Rapids

January 22, 2023

Recently, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case with high-stakes consequences for the US labor movement. The case at issue, Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, deals with a 2017 strike at a concrete-mixing company.

According to an article in the Jacobin, If the Supreme Court rules against the Teamsters, it could open the floodgates for corporations to sue unions for economic damages caused by strikes. 

One of the groups that is lobbying the US Supreme Court is the national business entity, the USChamber of Commerce. That the US Chamber of Commerce is advocating that the Supreme Court rule in favor the corporation in question is not surprising, in fact, throughout their history, the US Chamber of Commerce has not only been anti-labor union, they have been waging a war against workers and working families. 

For decades, the US Chamber of Commerce has spent millions on lobbying Congress, along with millions in campaign contributions to candidates that are anti-union. Amway co-founder, Jay Van Andel, was the chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1979 and 1980. In fact, during Van Andel’s tenure as chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce, he worked on a campaign to counter the consumer-driven work of Ralph Nader and all the advocacy groups that Nader created, like Public Citizen. Under Van Andel’s leadership, the US Chamber of Commerce created chapters of Citizen’s Choice, specifically as an effort to counter the public demands of greater accountability and regulation of businesses and corporations. 

Other ways that the US Chamber of Commerce has been engaged in class warfare against working people and working families, has been their opposition to things like raising the minimum wage, paid sick leave, maternity leave, improved health care benefits and progressive Climate Justice policies.

If the US Supreme Court rules in favor of corporations, then workers who chose to fight for workplace democracy will have more of their legal power taken away from them. At the local level, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is engaged in the same sort of class warfare in West Michigan.

Now, the  mission statement of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce states, “The Grand Rapids Chamber continues to work toward cultivating a region that is thriving and prosperous for ALL.” This is an outright lie, especially if one examines the legacy of the GR Chamber and the kind of things they have supported over the decades, which is in step with the US Chamber of Commerce.

The GR Chamber does an annual survey to find out what its members want the Chamber to make as its priorities. Just check out this short video, which lays out the 2021 legislative priorities for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.

The video makes it clear that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is “working to shape the policies to support a vibrant business climate.” The video states that the GR Chamber wants:

  • Property tax deferment for businesses, which Whitmer has vetoed twice
  • Regulatory flexibility 
  • A possible end to licensing fees
  • Eliminate or reduce business unemployment fees
  • Improve work search requirements to make people take jobs that don’t pay well
  • Education testing to make sure that students are work ready. In other words, the GR Chamber sees education as talent production
  • Creating more childcare options to get people back into the workforce and improve productivity
  • Criminal Justice reform for the GR Chamber is about getting more formerly incarcerated people into the workforce, which the Chamber also sees as a Talent issue
  • Continuation of the Going Pro Program, which transfers public money to private businesses for training purposes
  • Wants more housing, but not housing justice

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce made “big news” with their campaign contributions and endorsement of two candidates in the Grand Rapids City Commission race this past November. Of course, the GR Chamber of Commerce also contributed thousands to candidates for county and state offices as well, primarily GOP candidates. 

However, it would be a mistake to think that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce only contributes to GOP candidates who are running for office in Kent County. Check out the list of Democratic Party candidates that the GR Chamber of Commerce has contributed to in recent years, which begs the question – why would candidates who claim to support working people and working families, take campaign contributions from an entity that has been waging war on working people and families since they were founded in 1887. 

It’s bad enough that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce wants the City of Grand Rapids to adopt a proposed ordinance that would criminalize the unhoused, but this is completely in line with the organizations history of waging class war against working people and families in the greater Grand Rapids area.

Editor’s note: Additional sourcing for this article came from the book, The Influence Machine: The US Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Capture of American Life, by Alyssa Katz.

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