Mass opposition and collective action ended the Trump shutdown
The Trump shutdown caused the public to face delays, frustration and danger at the nation's airports. | AP

WASHINGTON – Massive opposition by people all over the country and collective action by labor and its allies was the key to ending President Trump’s 35-day shutdown of the federal government.

Worker protests from one end of the country to the other came to a head Friday when critical shortages of air traffic controllers, calling in because they were without pay and could not afford to get to work, caused a one hour and 22-minute shutdown of New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The ground halt triggered delays and cancellations throughout the nation’s airspace – plus at least one incident, above National Airport, where planes were too close to each other.

Panicked Republican lawmakers, already nervous about protests from their constituents, agreed Friday to legislation proposed by the Democrats under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – a bill that reopens the government until February 15 while lawmakers talk. The bill does not allocate a dime for Trump’s wall, something opposed by huge majorities in the country.

The LaGuardia shutdown was not officially condoned or endorsed by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Such a concerted action organized by the union is illegal under federal law covering government workers. But it illustrated the power of workers to put pressure on vulnerable “choke points” of the U.S. economy and force politicians to pay attention to them.

The cave-in by Trump is seen as a major victory for the newly-elected House use Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who just a week earlier, had cancelled the president’s invitation to the House to deliver his annual State of the Union message until he reopened the government. She has yet to set a new date for the speech.

The shutdown went on as long as it did because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican, refused to put any plan for reopening the government that Trump did not support up for a vote in the Senate. In the end he did just that, however.

As the delays of both passengers and freight backed up Friday around the country, and with not just the danger but the public outrage also growing, McConnell and his Republicans knuckled under and passed legislation backed by the Democrats which they could have passed, preventing a shutdown in the first place.

And their measure did not fund Trump’s $5.7 billion Mexican Wall, the reason he shut the departments of Transportation – including the Federal Aviation Administration – Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Housing and Commerce, plus other agencies, in the first place.

Instead, the 3-week reopening of the government gives lawmakers and Trump time to battle over the future of the wall. Foes call it racist, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leader of both the anti-wall and anti-shutdown forces on Capitol Hill, calls it immoral.

Air traffic controllers were not the only ones who acted at the airports to end the shutdown. More than one-tenth of the ill-paid, exploited airport screeners called in sick or unable to get to work because, literally, they couldn’t afford it. The Transportation Security Administration had to scramble to provide screeners at many of the nation’s busiest airports. –

The danger is far from over, however. Trump declared that unless he gets his wall, he’d shut the government again, or declare a “national emergency” – one independent legal scholars call phony – to yank money and troops from the Pentagon to build his Mexican Wall.

Despite Trump’s vow to build a wall one way or another, right-wing talk radio hosts and similar anti-Hispanic zealots denounced him as a traitor. “Good news for” the late former GOP President “George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as president of the United States,” extremist talk show host Ann Coulter tweeted.

On social media, the flying public trashed Trump, too. They backed the workers, booed Trump’s lockout and cheered when he bent and signed the temporary money bill.

“Pressure on Trump and lawmakers to end the shutdown escalated Friday as the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights into New York’s LaGuardia Airport because of a shortage of air-traffic control staff,” named cab3 tweeted. “Alrighty than!!! YEAH!!!!”

“Trump only ended the shutdown for 3 weeks so he could do the State of the Union address from the House,” Tee3 tweeted. “The Speaker of the House told him he would have to address the nation from somewhere else as long as the government was shut down. Trump’s pride is such he wants to keep with tradition and do it from the House, just like all the other presidents. He’d miss his chance. This man’s ego is amazing. He could care less about the American people.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.