The headline in The Nation magazine said it all: “The people are ahead of the politicians in the fight against Trump.”
And that’s right. Look at the mass marches for women’s rights, the demonstrations at the nation’s airports denouncing Trump’s Muslim ban, protests against his now-withdrawn Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder, the absolute drowning of Congress in phone calls and e-mails against his right wing Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, and on and on and on.
Those are just some examples, and there are more to come, of the mass mobilization against the anti-worker, anti-minority, anti-woman, anti-LGBT, anti-anyone-who’s-not-a-white-nationalist policies of the real estate mogul president and his multi-millionaire Cabinet.
But where are the nation’s unions in all of this? The answer, in one word: Split.
Several construction union leaders met with GOP President Donald Trump in the White House. They exited praising his commitment to added infrastructure.
Reflecting the views of their members, many of whom voted for the Republican in 2016, those union leaders said they could work with Trump on rebuilding the nation’s roads, railroads, airports, and mass transit. They were conveniently silent on his other stands.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka campaigned hard against Trump in 2016, but had a one-on-one sitdown session with him the week before the inauguration. The discussion was termed as businesslike, with no details.
Trumka has said there are areas – trade is one – where labor could work with the administration, while still strongly defending its values and principles.
Several unions, notably National Nurses United, decided on outright, constant opposition to anything and anyone that Trump pushes. The Communications Workers appear to be in that group, too.
Their opposition ranges from battling every Trump Cabinet nominee to his scheme to scrap the Affordable Care Act – although NNU, the Steelworkers, and others would replace the ACA with government-run Medicare for All – to Trump’s approval of controversial oil pipelines to his plan to deport millions of undocumented people.
Unions that are heavy financial hitters in politics are part of a coalition of progressive big givers who are still figuring out when and where to oppose Trump. But in that small group’s planning of what issues to combat Trump on, there was no mention of workers’ rights.
So if you get the idea that unions and their members are divided 15 ways from Sunday about Trump, you’re right. In 2016, unionists and their families voted 50-50 Clinton-Trump.
The answer about where workers and unions are on Trump is, right now, muddled. It doesn’t have to be.
Yes, opposition is absolutely necessary against the instances of evil that Trump and his minions, including the GOP-run Congress, perpetrate.
But what could unite the union movement, and workers of all stripes, even more, is a positive agenda. And it doesn’t take very long to figure it out. Here are some key planks:
Workers rights, including the right to organize without employer interference, harassment, and intimidation, for all workers. That includes workers now misclassified as “independent contractors,” whom their bosses – blue and white collar – exploit.
Equal pay for equal work, with teeth in the legislation to enforce it.
Universal health care, at a really affordable price and without the interference, denial of care, and price-gouging of the insurers and the pharmaceutical companies.
Huge moves to reduce income inequality, starting with taxing the rich the way we did in the 1950s, when the top maximum tax rate on the last dollar earned was 91 percent, not 39.
Better financing of Social Security and Medicare by subjecting all income – earned and unearned, from salaries to capital gains to you name it – to payroll taxes.
Expanding Social Security to give homemakers of both sexes job and work credit for the years they spend forgoing their pay to stay home and take care of the kids.
Rewriting other laws so that convicted corporate crooks and financial finaglers must not only disgorge their ill-gotten gains and humongous profits but, when they break the law, actually go to jail. And, oh yes, a lot more and more-timely prosecutions of such malefactors.
Protecting the environment, not polluting it even more.
Criminal justice reform, including police reform, to get rid of the bias against anyone who’s black or brown or red or in any other way “different.” If that means wholesale cleansing of and changing cultures at police departments, so be it.
Take that positive platform, run on it, hit the streets with it, pressure lawmakers with it, and hold our leaders – elected and unelected, private and public, politician, business owner, and union president – to it.
If they don’t follow it, dump them, at the ballot box or by economic pressure, or both.
That’s a good start at really fighting Trump.