Rep. Steve King To Workers: Your "Labor Is A Commodity Just Like Corn Or Beans"

June 02, 2011 3:12 pm ET — Alan Pyke

Late last night on the House floor, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) spoke in support of a Republican amendment to the Department of Homeland Security funding bill that would exempt DHS construction projects from a law requiring federal contractors to pay laborers the prevailing wage and benefits for the area. That law, known as Davis-Bacon, serves to protect union laborers from being drastically underbid by non-union contractors. In effect, the law prevents a 'race to the bottom' in federal contracting bids, which in turn protects working-class wages in the building trades.

But not according to Steve King, who once again likened the law to anti-gay legislation decried by Democrats and argued that it is an unacceptable intrusion into the free market, where "labor is a commodity just like corn or beans or oil or gold, and the value of it needs to be determined by the competition, supply and demand in the workplace."

KING: If you wanna do as many Democrats have said on this floor, and that is that any relationship between two consenting adults the federal government shouldn't be involved in, well this is a relationship the federal government should not be involved in. For the federal government to tell me that I can't say to my own son, I'd like to climb in the seat of your excavator and sit there for $10 an hour, federal government says I can't, he's gotta pay me some $28 rate or whatever that is. But the government has no business interfering and no business driving up these costs. And we must go through this period of austerity. That requires that we not impose federal union scale on federal construction projects. [...] And I think the free market should set the wages. Labor is a commodity just like corn or beans or oil or gold, and the value of it needs to be determined by the competition, supply and demand in the workplace.

After King finished his remarks, Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA) asked where King's family construction business is located. King explained, and then a live mic caught him saying, "Now he'll send the unions to organize [us]." Watch (transcript beginning at 1:52):

King gets it wrong when he says Davis-Bacon forces all employers to pay a prevailing wage to any laborer, in the same way that it's wrong to say that calling out offensive speech violates the First Amendment. Businesses have every right to pay any wage above the federal minimum that they please; they do not have a right to federal contracts.

Beyond the factual errors, King's speech is a classic example of his primary activity in Congress: kicking the working class while promoting laissez-faire capitalism. Whether it's reducing the sweat and sinew of American workers to "a commodity just like corn" that should not have its value in any way protected from the single-minded cost-cutting of accountants, or applying the sterile language of an economics classroom to Americans dwelling in poverty, there is no action in defense of working people that Steve King won't ridicule, hyperbolize and insult.


UPDATE: The amendment failed this afternoon by a vote of 233-184 against, with 51 Republicans defecting from the party to oppose the anti-union measure.

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