Dem Labor Commission blasts Trump, envisions better future
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, called Trump "heartless." | AP

Outlining how the Trump regime is hurting millions of people now, and envisioning a better future for workers and the country, dominated the first session of the Democratic National Convention’s Labor Commission, which convened just before the virtual convention itself opened on the evening of August 17.

The cavalcade of speakers, both union leaders and Democratic lawmakers, leveled sharp criticism at current Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka basically called Trump heartless. Labor Commission Chairman Stuart Appelbaum wasn’t far behind.

“In the past, presidents of both parties have comforted the grieving,” said Trumka of the friends and relatives of the 170,281 people who have died, as of 6 p.m. on August 17, in the coronavirus pandemic. Including the dead, 5,423 million have tested positive since it was declared.

“From this White House, there’s no sorrow, just deception. There’s no hope, just fear. Far too often, this president’s belligerent words have demeaned, divided and deceived.”

Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, sounded a variation.  “Far too many workers have died and are dying,” he said because of the coronavirus pandemic Trump first refused to even acknowledge. “Our economy is in shambles. The pain is deep. The suffering is real.”

Said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the House Democratic Caucus chair and proud to represent what he called “The People’s Republic of Brooklyn”: “The work you have done in this pandemic has been great, but the government has been the unmitigated disaster that is Donald Trump.”

Other speakers hit Trump on specific government inaction against the pandemic. United Food and Commercial Workers President Marc Perrone slammed him for lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line workers, especially the grocery and slaughterhouse workers his union represents.

Most of them are people of color and many are migrants, he said. And after denying them PPE, “then he (Trump) made it more difficult” by forcing them to work despite the virus peril, Perrone said.

Trump “has put the lives of essential workers at risk and put the lives of Black and brown people at risk,” added Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry. A disproportionately high number of coronavirus illnesses and deaths have hit people of color.

Speakers coupled condemnation of Trump with optimism that conditions would improve once the Democratic ticket of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., end his reign by winning this fall. The Biden-Harris ticket now leads Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in opinion polls by between four and 12 percentage points.

The commission convened its first-ever session, led by Appelbaum and vice-chair Carrie Pugh, political director of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union. One speaker noted, in an indirect criticism of the party’s past record of taking organized labor for granted, that it didn’t have a Labor Commission in 2016.

Most speakers preferred to look forward, with several hailing Biden’s past pro-worker record as a senator and praising what they called the most-pro-worker party platform in history. Trumka reiterated Harris has a 100% pro-worker voting record from the AFL-CIO, which endorsed the ticket on May 26.

A typical comment about the future came from AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler; “We can’t just go back to ‘normal.’ We need to go back to better.”

The first part of that better, said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a 30-year member of the Painters, would be congressional passage of the Protect The Right To Organize (Pro) Act, the most-comprehensive and pro-worker rewrite of basic labor law since the original Wagner Act of 1935. Biden has pledged to sign it.

Then, Pocan declared, “we need a Secretary of Labor for workers, not employers,” unlike Trump Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, a right-wing former corporate lawyer who pushes through anti-worker rules and curbs or kills enforcement of worker health and safety laws. Pocan was the sole speaker who went into details about Biden’s plans.

Other pro-worker provisions Pocan envisioned would include a stronger Occupational Safety and Health Administration, strong Buy America rules, and Biden’s “Build Back Infrastructure” plan to repair the nation’s creaky bridges, crumbling roads, New Deal era-airports, and old railroads, among other projects.

But like several hundred other pieces of pro-worker legislation which went through the Democratic-run House on party-line votes, the ProAct was deep-sixed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., slavishly following Trump. So was the Heroes Act, HR6800, a topic of both postal union presidents and of Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson.

That’s the $3 trillion legislation to help the tens of millions of workers—from teachers and farmworkers to state workers,  steelworkers and taxi drivers—thrown out of jobs by the current depression. The legislation includes extending the weekly $600 federal jobless checks to those millions.

It also includes $25 billion to keep the U.S. Postal Service going, and its 604,000 workers, most of them union members and 40% of them people of color, employed. McConnell has not only sat on that but sent the Senate home for the rest of August on recess for the two party conventions. By contrast, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called lawmakers back this week to deal with the USPS crisis.

“The virus came along and we saw a vast decline in first-class mail” due to the ensuing depression which forced hundreds of thousands of business closures, Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando explained. First-class is the money-making mail segment.

“And then the new Postmaster General,” a big donor to Trump and the GOP, “decided to ‘reorganize’ the Postal Service. We saw operational ‘initiatives’ delaying first-class mail and causing non-delivery of mail—all while our members were on the front lines” against the virus “and just wanting to do their jobs” and come home safely, Rolando said.

They aren’t safe, he added, and that’s one reason Congress, and specifically, the Senate must pass HR6800. “We’ve seen the number of positive cases” among Postal Service workers “quadruple in a few weeks.” Added Postal Workers President Mark Dimondstein: “There are hundreds of thousands of good, family-sustaining jobs” in the Postal Service. They would be gone, he said, without the temporary aid.


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.

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