Trumka: Unions focusing on members’ needs as 2018 election approaches
Richard Trumka. | AP

WASHINGTON—The nation’s unions plan “to focus on our members” in the run-up to the 2018 election, bringing them a pro-worker economic platform, highlighting candidates who pledge to push it and showing 2016’s Trump voters how the Republican president broke his promises to them, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says.

But in an August 30 session with reporters, anticipating Labor Day, Trumka admitted that means unions have a lot of work to do – politically and otherwise.

Trumka spoke as the nation’s unions face a concerted assault from the radical right, its business backers and its political handmaidens, from Trump through the GOP-run Congress, state governors’ mansions and legislatures and big rich “dark money” in politics.

That coalition ganged up to push so-called “right to work” laws through GOP-run states, hamstring organizing and enact other anti-union measures – such as denial of teacher tenure and abolition of Project Labor Agreements – on the state and local level.

And when pro-worker cities have rebelled, the GOP-run states have tried to strip them of power. The most notable example was in Missouri: St. Louis approved a citywide minimum wage hike, and the GOP-run state government repealed it and barred other cities from acting. f

2018 is a key election year for workers and their allies, as most governors’ mansions and state legislatures will be up for grabs, as will all U.S. House seats and one-third of the Senate. The GOP holds 52 Senate seats and must defend only eight. The Democrats and independents, most of them pro-worker, must defend 25 of their total of 48 seats.

Governors’ chairs include open seats in the mega-states of California and Florida, along with Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and other key states.

Trumka said exit polls for the federation showed organized labor’s endorsed presidential candidate, Democrat Hillary Clinton, got 10 percent fewer unionists’ and union families’ votes in 2016 than Democratic President Barack Obama won four years before, while Republican nominee Donald Trump got three percent more than 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Trumka said Clinton still won a majority among union households, but other exit polls on election night showed a 50-50 split, especially in the key swing Midwestern states – Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – Trump narrowly won,. Their electoral votes put him in the Oval Office. Ohio unionists voted 52 percent-48 percent for Trump, for example.

Trump won, Trumka said, because disgusted voters pulled the lever for an outsider, and because while both Clinton and labor had a pro-worker message, they didn’t articulate it very well. In Clinton’s case, many voters “didn’t believe she would fight for it,” Trumka added.

“They did not hear an economic message that addressed their needs. The economic system did not work for them. They wanted a message that addressed kitchen-table issues” – pay, pensions, job security and how to afford college for their kids – “and neither party addressed that,” he said.

“They were willing to take a chance on Donald Trump, and they’re not getting what they voted for. This crisis” in the economy, which Trumka said has been going on for years, “helped put Donald Trump in the White House.”

But Trump has rejected pro-worker moves, including a long, detailed list of AFL-CIO recommendations, which Trumka presented to him early this year, before administration contacts dropped. Instead, Trump’s turned to Wall Street, Trumka said.

Workers, including Trump voters, “have gotten broken promises and divisive rhetoric.”

For labor, the campaign tactics will change, Trumka promised. The first step is talking with members about the kitchen-table issues and listening to the responses.

And the second one is to present them with the facts about Trump’s moves, including his rollbacks of pro-worker regulations, his attempts to repeal financial protections instituted after the Great Recession, and his anti-minority, anti-civil rights stands. “We’re going to tell them the truth,” Trumka said of labor’s plans for its talks with its members.

On other issues, Trumka:

  • Criticized the first round of talks between the Trump administration, Canada and Mexico on a “new NAFTA” as again being behind closed doors, with no information for the public or for workers. That duplicated the negotiations for the original NAFTA, the jobs-losing three-nation “free trade” pact that Trumka said benefits multinational corporations, not workers.
  • Said he quit the administration’s Manufacturing Advisory Committee because labor could not “be associated with white nationalists and neo-Nazis” after Trump’s endorsement of those groups’ actions in their riot in Charlottesville, Va. “We made a conscious decision that was intolerable,” Trumka said. Former top federation staffer Thea Lee also quit the panel.
  • Reiterated that even though relations between the White House and labor are cool, unions and their allies still take the stand that “We’ll judge you by what you do. If you do things that are good for working people, we’ll support you. If you do things that are bad for working people, we’ll oppose you.”

Trumka used infrastructure and the Affordable Care Act as examples. He said if the administration produces a viable $1 trillion 10-year plan to rebuild U.S. roads, subways, rail lines, airports and other infrastructure, unions will support it. By contrast, Trump backed all GOP efforts to repeal the ACA and throw millions of people off of health insurance. Unions and their allies teamed up to defeat the GOP schemes.

  • Said the nation’s work-life balance is out of whack. “Our surveys found more and more Americans are overcome by work,” with flat wages, longer hours, less vacation, fewer paid sick days, declining health care coverage and no paid sick or family leave. The federation released a report, Laboring On Labor Day, making those points. The solution, Trumka said, is simple: Join a union.

“If you’re in a union, you’re more likely to receive time off, overtime pay and paid time off in general,” he said. Legislation for paid sick and family leave, which labor backs, handles just one facet of that problem. But like the others, “It’s an area where the labor movement has faced the onslaught” of corporate and political opposition.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

Comments

comments

MOST POPULAR

Sorry. No data so far.