Democratic U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro of New Haven is the most senior member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation. She has just published her first book. It’s called The Least Among Us: Waging the Battle for the Vulnerable.
WSHU’s Senior Political Reporter Ebong Udoma spoke with DeLauro about it. She told him that growing up in an Italian working class neighborhood in New Haven convinced her that social safety net programs are worth fighting for.
DELAURO: Growing up in New Haven, Connecticut, I saw ample evidence all around me of just how vulnerable hard working people are in the face of corporate indifference. In 1957, when I was barely a teenager, the Franklin Street Fire claimed the life of my friend’s mother. Fifteen people died in that fire because they couldn’t escape the smoke and the flames. A fire escape was locked. The ladder would not extend to the ground. There had been no fire drills. And doors opened the wrong way, blocking exit. It was a disaster, it happened down the street from my house. It is impossible to be an eyewitness to events like that and not be touched by the gravity of our responsibility to one another.
UDOMA: Now that brings me to a point on government regulation. We’re in an era now where we’re being told there is too much regulation, and you just gave an example on how some of that regulation that came about. Can you expound a little bit on that?
DELAURO: Sure, I will go right back to the book if you don’t mind. I say again right in the introduction, it bears repeating, that corporations do not feel free to poison us, to sell us spoiled meat, to lock our daughters up in nine floor sweatshops with no fire escapes, employ our under-aged sons in coal mines, force us to work 13-hour shifts without overtime or a break, or call in private armies to fire rifles at those of us who dare strike for higher wages.
It’s not because corporations experienced a moment of zen and decided to evolve. No, they were forced into greater accountability and social concern, by the legitimate actions of a democratic government. In other words, if we depend on goodwill, we are all screwed.
My point is, and you get my point, is that fire safety laws, workplace safety laws, minimum wage, no child labor, these are laws that insure that employers fulfill their obligations to employees. And again, that is what is critical and often times, and we’re watching today a rollback of regulations, which will harm our public safety, our food safety, and our environment.
UDOMA: We just witnessed the crafting of health care legislation in the U.S. Senate by an all male group, and there are some women in the Senate, they weren’t included. You have some stories about not being included in the leadership in the House yourself. So talk about being a woman in politics, and how that affects being taken seriously?
DELAURO: One of the most unbelievable stories is as a member of Congress. A number of years ago, but not that long ago like these earlier stories, when I was running for the position of chair of the Democratic Caucus. At the same time my good friend Nancy Pelosi was running to be the Democratic whip. Well, I lost by one vote, but I was told at the time by a number of my male colleagues that we could not have two women on the ticket. Mindless. Absurd. But my point, still today, women in Congress need to work harder. We need to work harder at what we do. You have to know what you’re talking about, what you want to say, because oftentimes if you get it wrong, or they perceive you do not understand the nature of the bill, of the issue, etc., women are hard pressed to get a second chance. But I will tell you what – we never anticipated that the president of the United States will not take us seriously.
UDOMA: I’d be remiss if I didn’t deal with something that you’ve been very passionate about. And that’s the trade deals, NAFTA, the TPP, and others. What’s your take on the trade deals and why have they not been good for the United States?
DELAURO: Well look, the past trade agreements, yes, going back to the NAFTA agreement, but then subsequent agreements from there, whether you’re looking at Peru or you’re looking at Korea, what they have failed to do is at their center, and at the core of the agreement, to take into account the economic viability of American workers.
UDOMA: I really appreciate your spending the time talking about your book. Thank you very much, Congresswoman DeLauro.
DELAURO: Thank you so much.