Movement grows against Trump’s looting of taxpayers
Now the real looting starts: President Donald Trump smiles as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin hands over a Treasury Department debit card, May 19, 2020. With the help of Mnuchin and McConnell, Trump plans to hand over more Treasury funds to corporations and keep secret which companies have already received handouts under the cover of coronavirus relief. | Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON—Progressives in Congress and in mass organizations, among them Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and the pro-worker group Public Citizen, are raising alarm over the Trump administration’s refusal to release the names of corporations that have received bailouts from the $500 billion coronavirus stimulus package passed recently, and over plans by GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to secretly give away even more to corporations in the next package.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin testified to Congress yesterday that he will not release the names of who got the funds. “We believe that’s proprietary, confidential information,” he said. There is no justification whatsoever, critics are saying, for giving away billions in taxpayer money and not letting the public know who is getting it.

“Making sure trillions in aid goes to workers, not profiteers, begins with knowing where the aid goes,” Bartlett Naylor, Public Citizen’s financial policy advocate, said yesterday. He described the Trump administration’s policy of transparency as a “red carpet for hucksters, schemers, and battlefield scavengers.”

Outrage has spread across all sectors of the public, with many drawing parallels to recent media coverage of “looting” at some of the protests against the murder of George Floyd. “This is the looting we should be furious about, this is absolutely unreal,” declared author and activist Naomi Klein in response to Trump’s doubling down on keeping secret his corporate giveaways.

Sen. Brown and Public Citizen are launching a mass campaign to stop McConnell’s big corporate giveaway in the next stimulus law: A virtual ban on lawsuits by workers and consumers for almost any reason whatsoever for the next five years.

The Kentucky Republican, acting at the behest of right-wing and big business interests, says that ban is his “red line” for debating—much less approving—a new stimulus bill.

The Democratic-run House passed a $3 trillion stimulus bill. It doesn’t have McConnell’s lawsuit ban. It does have $1 trillion to help state and local governments that have seen their tax revenues dry up due to closures caused by the battle to stop community spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

That measure includes other key pro-worker priorities, such as further extension of federal unemployment benefits for the nation’s 35 million jobless, more money for Amtrak and mass transit, and billions of dollars to states to establish and implement vote-by-mail systems, on federal orders, in time for the November election.

And it includes funds to keep the U.S. Postal Service and its 600,000 workers—most of them female, people of color, veterans, or combinations of those characteristics—going.

A mass public campaign for those provisions will be the lever to try to deny McConnell his business giveaway, Public Citizen Executive Director Robert Weissman said during a June 11 telephone press conference.

But McConnell says the House measure is dead on arrival and that no aid at all will pass unless he gets his way with the business exemption from lawsuits, especially for exposure of workers and consumers to the coronavirus, for the next five years. He uses aiding business to get back on its feet from the virus’s impact as his excuse for that bonanza.

Brown, Public Citizen, and 140 other organizations are determined to stop him.

Citing Trump administration testimony at a Senate hearing the day before, Brown said business and the president “have no interest in workers’ safety,” a disdain he added extends beyond the coronavirus and its impact on workers to the safety and health of workers and consumers overall.

And when it came to specific actions, Brown slammed Trump, “who has said nothing at all about closing down the pork production plant in South Dakota” that is now the scene of the largest single outbreak of coronavirus-infected people, with more than 1,000 cases. “And he’s said nothing about worker safety and nothing about food safety.”

Instead, Trump declared all such meat and poultry processing plants and their workers essential and marched them back to their jobs with an executive order, regardless of the risk to their lives and lives of their families and communities from catching the virus.

“As one worker from Ohio told me, ‘They call us essential but they treat us as expendable.’”

“That’s always been their (businesses’) agenda,” the senator added.

McConnell would write that agenda into law. It would ensure Smithfield, the plant’s owner, and similar corporations that ignore or defy demands for safe working conditions can get away with it.

The Chamber of Commerce also cites fear of lawsuits from workers and consumers who get sick from the coronavirus. Gregg Remington, Public Citizen’s legal counsel for consumer issues, said hurdles to such suits are high and often barred by mandatory arbitration clauses or are shuffled into the workers’ comp system. That system bans lawsuits, too.

Ironically, one of the first suits the Chamber fears was filed two days before, by six Amazon workers, an international union federation, and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, a United Food and Commercial Workers sector, against Amazon, citing unsafe coronavirus-caused working conditions in Amazon warehouses.

Amazon and Smithfield are two of more than a dozen firms that refuse to protect workers against the virus, all detailed in a Public Citizen report the press call discussed.

Brown said he and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are going “in the other direction…to expand how people can take legal action against companies” that hurt, endanger, sicken, or kill them. He’s also pushed Trump on that cause. Trump refuses to agree.

Gregg Remington, Public Citizen’s legal counsel for consumer issues, said mass action will be their way to overcome McConnell’s blockade, using aid to people as a lever.

“McConnell shouldn’t be playing games with people’s lives” or their jobs, especially those of public workers such as fire fighters and teachers who would be laid off unless the $1 billion in state and local aid comes through. “We will use those issues,” especially with the Senate majority Republicans, to overcome their leader, he predicted.

“Workers don’t need corporate PR” at a time of “deep depression and coronavirus pandemic,” Brown said. “They need protection from corporations.”


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.