On Capitol Hill, members of both parties often invest a fair amount of energy into renaming things. In 2004, for example, Republicans changed the GAO’s official name from the General Accounting Office to the Government Accountability Office for reasons I’ve never fully understood.
This year, as a new GOP majority gets to work in the House, it’s also tinkering with some names. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform, for example, will now be the Committee on Oversight and Accountability. What’s more, the Committee on Education and Labor has been renamed the Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Before we get into the explanation behind the change, it’s worth noting that the education panel’s name has evolved more than once over the years. It was the Committee on Education and Labor at its founding in 1867, but Republicans changed it in 1995 to the Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities.
In 1997, Republicans changed it again, renaming it the Committee on Education and the Workforce. In 2007, Democrats brought back the original name, only to have Republicans reverse course in 2011 and again this year.
And why, pray tell, are GOP lawmakers so reluctant to include the word “labor” in the panel’s name? As it turns out, the new Republican leadership of the committee, under the control of Chairwoman Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, issued a written statement this week explaining the rationale behind the change:
“Labor” is an antiquated term that excludes individuals who contribute to the American workforce but aren’t classified as conventional employees. “Labor” also carries a negative connotation that ignores the dignity of work; the term is something out of a Marxist textbook that fails to capture the accomplishments of the full spectrum of the American workforce. The Left prefers the term labor because it creates a sense of enmity between employees and employers which union bosses and left-wing activists seek to stoke for political gain. ... Though the Left likes to treat employers like predators, we know that most job creators have their employees’ best interests in mind.
Just so we’re clear, this is not intended as satire. I didn’t make this up to make congressional Republicans appear foolish. They released this statement to the public, and published it online, deliberately.
This actual written statement went on to say use of the word “labor” in the panel’s name “inadvertently ignores the dignity of the work of those individuals.”
The statement added, “Using outdated terms like ‘labor’ creates an overt bias towards union bosses while widening fissures created by Big Labor between workers and employers.”
The most obvious problem with the rhetoric is the GOP’s overt hostility toward unions, but it’s also striking to see the new House Republican majority read so much into a common and frequently used word.
To hear Foxx’s committee tell it, “labor” is practically a slur intended to tarnish beleaguered job creators. Americans are apparently supposed to believe the term “carries a negative connotation.” It’s “something out of a Marxist textbook.” It’s intended to generate “a sense of enmity between employees and employers.” It “creates an overt bias.”
It’s not uncommon for Republicans to accuse the left of being overly focused on word choices in the interest of inclusion and treating people with respect. It’s against this backdrop that we’re learning that “labor” apparently hurts the GOP’s feelings.