Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What's In A Name? (Part II)

William Safire in the NY Times Magazine last Sunday has more to say about the name change at my future employer, the House Education and Labor Committee:
Who says the 110th House of Representatives, with Democrats in the majority, will be no different from the G.O.P.-dominated 109th? The names, they are a-changin’: the word Labor is back, with a capital L. In 1995, when the Republicans took over after 40 years — 14,610 interminable days — in the minority wilderness, they changed the name of the Education and Labor Committee to “the Committee on Education and the Workforce.”

Why? Because the word Labor, capitalized, was taken to be “Big Labor” — unions almost monolithically support Democrats — and here was a way to go over the union bosses’ heads. The idea was to spread the committee’s jurisdiction over the needs of all workers, especially the majority, who are not union members. (A bit of history: When President Nixon accepted George Meany’s invitation to attend the annual A.F.L.-C.I.O. convention in Bal Harbour, Fla., Meany sat the president in the third row on the platform — an unprecedented snub. Charles Colson, the White House counsel, came up with a fighting slogan afterward: “Remember Bal Harbour!”)

If Labor was to be replaced, then with what? Not workers; that word is associated with socialism (International Workers of the World (sic), or “wobblies”) and communism (in its manifesto, “Workers of the World — Unite”). But there was another term, coined in 1931, during what revisionist Republicans considered the unfairly maligned Hoover administration: workforce. Most dictionaries gave it two senses (and make it two words): “all employees collectively, or those doing work in a particular firm or industry.”

Therefore, one of the first actions in what Speaker Nancy Pelosi dubbed “the first 100 hours” of the newly Democratic House was to vote that “Clause 1(e) of Rule 10 is amended by striking ‘Committee on Education and the Workforce’ and inserting ‘Committee on Education and Labor.’ ”