WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton finally showed that she can turn a crowd on.
The former Secretary of State, the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, repeatedly brought 3,000 unionists to their feet with strong pro-worker pledges – and a few jabs at the two leading Republican hopefuls – on April 19.
Clinton took time out from that day’s New York primary, which she won by a 57 percent-43 percent margin over challenging Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., to jet to D.C. to address the 2016 Legislative-Political Conference of North America’s Building Trades. That’s the renamed AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department.
And her passion for workers’ causes, from project labor agreements to being their advocate in the White House, excited the audience.
Admittedly, Clinton addressed unionists already disposed to back her. NABT, and ten of its 13 member unions, previously endorsed her candidacy, and thousands of unionized construction workers have been pounding the pavements for her this election season. Those waving signs in the cavernous hotel hall included the slogan “Hardhats for Hillary.”
Still, Clinton is known for her policy-filled, fact-filled and rather dispassionate speechmaking. Her Building Trades speech was still policy and fact-filled, but it was anything but dispassionate. The cheering came for Clinton statements such as:
- “If I become your president, I will be your champion in the White House – and you will have a seat at the table.”
- “I will not let anyone undermine collective bargaining rights. I will not let anyone undermine prevailing wage standards. I will not let anyone undermine project labor agreements.” Those three statements were interrupted by cheers after each.
- “I’ll fight for a tax credit to expand your successful model” of apprenticeship training, which she said reaches African-Americans, Latinos, women and the disabled and brings them, via the building trades, into well-paying middle-class jobs.
“There are 1.2 million jobs” pending or available in construction, especially as current workers retire. “I want them to be filled by apprentices trained by the building trades and to become members of building trades unions.
- “If you do your part, you and your family should be able to get ahead and stay ahead.”
- “We need an economy that grows for everybody, not just those at the top.”
- “Some country could be the energy superpower of the 21st century. It could be China. It could be Germany. I want it to be us.”
Clinton backed her sweeping statements with specific proposals. Clinton explained that every high school graduate needs post-high school education, in 4-year colleges, community colleges or as apprentices. So she advocated one tax credit for apprenticeship training, another for restoring U.S. manufacturing, and two infrastructure plans.
Her manufacturing plan centered around the tax credit, and much of the money would go for new clean energy development, she said.
“American workers don’t quit and I won’t quit on them,” Clinton pledged.
As for infrastructure, Clinton repeated her proposal for a 5-year $275 billion plan to rebuild U.S. bridges, roads and mass transit, now funded by the federal gas tax. She added a public-private partnership, funding a $250 billion national infrastructure development bank, for “projects of regional or national significance.” Building trades unions have campaigned for such a bank for years, as have congressional Democrats. The GOP ignores the bank plan.
And Clinton was particularly passionate, and got a storm of applause, when she described the infrastructure disaster, and political moves – by Republicans – that poisoned the drinking water in Flint, Mich., with lead. That harmed kids, especially minority kids. Earlier, the whole crowd gave a standing ovation to Plumbers Local 370 members who are replacing faucets and installing filters, as well as bringing bottled water, to the stricken city, for free.
All Clinton’s infrastructure lines got vigorous approval, as building trades members help erect those structures, pave the roads and build new subways, tunnels, power lines, bridges and airports. She noted U.S. infrastructure – from eroding pipes to a creaky electrical grid to elderly airports to crumbling highways and bridges – needs not just repair, but replacement.
Clinton also used infrastructure for one jab at the GOP in general and presidential contenders Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, whom she called out by name.
“We’re hearing a different tune from some in the GOP,” she said of their infrastructure plans. “Ted Cruz has supported a plan to cut infrastructure spending by 80 percent. Does anyone here believe we should do that?” The crowd responded, “No!”
And Clinton targeted Trump and Cruz not just on infrastructure, but on their readiness for the White House, their foreign policies and their anti-worker schemes. Trump, she noted, supports lower wages for workers. Then she turned to protecting the U.S.
“When Donald Trump talks approvingly about torture or about having South Korea and Japan have nuclear weapons, it’s scary. When Ted Cruz talks about surveying Muslims, it’s scary,” she said of some of the foreign policy statements by the two Republicans.
“Loose cannons tend to misfire,” Clinton summed up.
Photo: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the 2016 Legislative Conference of North America’s Building Trades Unions in Washington, Tuesday, April 19, 2016. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP