Lions and tigers and “economic treason:” Oh my!

Some of my steelworkers retiree friends are a little nervous because Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, talked about “economic treason” in a speech this month in Ohio. Actually he’s called out corporate America for economic treason on a number of occasions recently. My friends don’t disagree, they just think it might be a bit strong for popular consumption.

I looked up the definition of treason online at “1. the offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign; 2. a violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state; 3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.” (Of course in theory we don’t have a sovereign, but hey, we do have a class of folks who bow down to big business. (Dare I say it, “economic royalty.”) Anyway, I’ll go with definition number 3.

Then I Googled “economic treason.” Wow, what a virtual poop storm! Looks like Trumka really struck a right-wing, corporate nerve with that one. From the National Association of Manufacturing “Shop Floor” blog to something called the AK-47-net, they are foaming at the mouth, blog after wingnut blog outraged and ranting about the Trumka quote.
Here’s a short quote from what Trumka actually said:

 Some of our politicians, and some of America’s biggest corporations have given up on America. Companies are sitting on $837 billion without creating jobs. Banks are clutching a trillion dollars in profits without lending to small businesses and consumers. Too many companies aren’t investing in the future, or in the country that made them great. All they want to do is scrape every ounce of flesh from our hides — for their profit. Well I say that is economic treason!

I would add that shutting down factories and destroying whole communities to move operations off shore in order to avoid living wages and labor and environmental regulation also constitutes economic treason.

This form of economic treason is sometimes excused by some on the left with the argument that moving jobs overseas to underdeveloped countries helps develop a working class in those countries and is therefore progressive. And that fighting to keep jobs and factories here in the US is protectionist. (Big business also loves the term “protectionist.”) But imperialism is largely based on the fact that capital flows (often with military help) to where it can make the highest profit. And higher profits are based on higher rates of exploitation and super exploitation and working-class misery. General Motors doesn’t build factories in India and Indonesia because it’s interested in development. Workers, in any country, fighting to save jobs and their communities are showing true economic patriotism and working-class internationalism. Only the capitalists try and pit worker against worker in a race to the bottom on wages, and living conditions.

Giant global corporations are not loyal to any country, no matter where they are headquartered. GM going bankrupt and getting a bail-out from our tax dollars was able to “protect” their huge profits and capital holdings around the world from creditors in the U.S. Yet at the same time they fight to avoid their fair share of taxes, or health and safety or any other kind of regulation here at home. And these giant transnationals trample on labor and human rights around the world.

Now having said all that, I think I do see why some are nervous about the charge of treason. Retirees like me, remember the book “None Dare Call it Treason.” It was a bible of anti-communist hysteria and the red scare. The charge of treason was thrown around at anything and anyone who opposed racism, injustice and war or stood up for worker and labor rights. It was not only used against actual communists and socialists, but against any progressive activist or organization. I remember vividly being called a traitor by Klansmen in southern Virginia for organizing support for African Americans to register to vote.

So for many of my generation the charge of treason is associated with extremism. Still just because the far right misused the term in the past doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid description for what big business and the giant financial institutions are doing today. I agree whole heartedly with Trumka. And let’s be clear, The economic traitors are a tiny handful of people who put corporate profits above the good of our country.

Added to Trumka’s list should be the union busters, the hate mongers, the giant corporations and banks that use the economic crisis that they created to drive down wages, cut jobs and send millions into unemployment, poverty and misery. They are truly guilty of “betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.”



Scott Marshall
Scott Marshall

Scott has been a life long trade unionist and was active in rank and file reform movements in the Teamsters, Machinists and Steelworkers unions in the 1970s and '80s. He was co-chair of the Save Our Jobs committee of USWA local 1834 at Pullman Standard in Chicago and active in nationwide organizing against plant shutdowns and layoffs. He was a founder of the unemployed organization Jobs or Income Now (Join), in Chicago, and the National Congress of Unemployed Organizations in the 1980s. Scott remains active in SOAR (Steelworkers Active Organized Retirees). He lives in Chicago.