Reagan and Trump, two peas in a union-busting pod
An image of President Donald Trump, left, decorates the side of a car, alongside an image of President Ronald Reagan, center outside a campaign event in Miami, Fla., Oct. 27, 2020. | Rebecca Blackwell / AP

The old saying “many a truth is spoken in jest” reminds me of a sign in a Paducah union hall from 1980: “A union member voting for Ronald Reagan is like a chicken voting for Col. Sanders.”

The same goes for Donald Trump, who despite his indictment, looks like the favorite to win next year’s GOP presidential nod. (Trump says he’s still running despite the indictment and predicts “potential death & destruction” in the wake of his being charged with paying hush money to adult film star Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels. He is facing at least three more investigations.)

Elected almost 43 years ago, Reagan was the most anti-union president since Herbert Hoover. Trump was the most anti-union president since Reagan. Yet Republicans Reagan and Trump claimed to be champions of everyday working folks.

Reagan was a con artist who talked blue collar but walked corporate. So is Trump. They differ only in style: Reagan came off as the affable “morning in America” guy; Trump is a snarling, foul-mouthed bigot. Reagan preferred the “dog whistle” in pandering to prejudice; Trump is partial to the bullhorn.

The late AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called out Trump for proving to be just another union-buster in the White House. “Broken promises are bad enough,” The New York Times quoted Trumka.

“But President Trump has also used his office to actively hurt working people. He has joined with corporations and their political allies to undermine the right of workers to bargain collectively. He has taken money out of our pockets and made our workplace less safe. He has divided our country, abandoned our values, and given cover to racism and other forms of bigotry.”

Trump didn’t lie just to workers. He lied about anything or anybody any time it suited him. He made at least 30,573 false or misleading claims while he was president, according to a Washington Post tally. Evidently, no American president lied more bigly than Trump.

His biggest lie is still the one where he claims Joe Biden and the Democrats cheated him out of a second term. But the whopper that he’s pro-union comes in a close second.

Trump loves “right to work”

If you pack a union card like I do, you know that “right-to-work” laws are some of the oldest union-busting tools around. (Unions, for good reason, call them “right to work for less” laws.)

But on the campaign trail in 2016, Trump said he was “100 percent” for “right to work.”

In right-to-work states like Kentucky, all hourly workers in a unionized workplace can enjoy union-won wages and benefits without joining the union or paying the union a fee to represent them to management. (Under federal law, if a worksite has a union, the union must equally represent all hourly workers.)

Reagan smashed the Professional Air Traffic Controllers union (PATCO) during his first year in office, a move that “was the first huge offensive in a war that corporate America has been waging on this country’s middle class ever since,” Jon Schwarz wrote in The Intercept.

While Trump avoided the draft and military service during the Vietnam War, he volunteered for the corporate war against working people. Like Reagan, he turned the U.S. Labor Department into the anti-labor department. Both presidents nominated labor secretaries who had proved their hostility to unions.

The National Labor Relations Board is supposed to protect workers’ rights to unionize. Reagan and Trump packed the panel with pro-business and anti-union appointees. (Click here to read a Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA!) report on Trump’s NLRB. The report includes a list of “50 Reasons the Trump Administration is Bad for Workers.”)

“Trump appointed fast food executive and union critic Andrew Puzder and [later] Eugene Scalia to be secretary of labor,” said Kirk Gillenwaters, a United Auto Workers Local 862 retiree and president of the Kentucky branch of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “Scalia [the son of right-wing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia] was a union avoidance attorney who had made a living fighting labor regulations and workers trying to organize.”

Added Gillenwaters: “Trump personally attacked USW Local 1999 President Chuck Jones when Jones called Trump a liar over jobs to be saved at his Indiana plant.”

Gillenwaters was a delegate to the 2017 Kentucky State AFL-CIO convention in Lexington where Jones, who headed the union at a Carrier HVAC plant in Indianapolis, was a featured speaker.

“There are few better examples of how much of a snake oil salesman Donald Trump is than the latest news of even more layoffs at Carrier,” Oliver Willis wrote in The American Independent on Nov. 9, 2017.

“The company just announced that over 200 employees will lose their jobs at the Indianapolis plant in January. That follows Carrier’s decision earlier in the year to fire 300 workers at the same facility.”

Explained Willis: “Carrier has been able to do this because Trump and then-Gov. Mike Pence put together a $7 million bribe to the company.

“Before being sworn in to the presidency and vice presidency, the two put together a sweetheart deal of tax cuts to induce Carrier to keep jobs in Indiana, where Pence was governor. After negotiating the deal, Trump patted himself on the back and claimed he had saved jobs that would be shipped overseas.

“But Trump and Pence did not secure any agreement that would require Carrier to keep those jobs. Instead, they negotiated away revenue from the people of Indiana in exchange for a few days of headlines. The mainstream press unfortunately played along with Trump’s game, and Carrier has now shown how much it played Trump and Pence for absolute suckers.

“The entire deal, playing out over the first year of Trump’s presidency, has been a microcosm of his fraudulent approach to governing.”

Jones told the convention that all along he doubted Trump’s promise to bring outsourced jobs home and to keep other jobs stateside. But he conceded that Trump’s pledge “resonated with a lot of working people.”

He recalled that on the campaign trail, Trump never said, “‘I’m going to bring my business back in this country’ or ‘I’m going to bring my daughter’s business back in this country’…I thought he was full of shit at the time, and…times went on to prove [that] without a doubt he is.” (Click here.)

In a Nov. 29, 2017, Washington Post op-ed article, Jones wrote that “Beyond Indiana, workers across the country feel like they too are victims of a false Trumpian bargain, in which they were invited to trade their votes to keep their jobs. In fact, according to new research conducted by Good Jobs Nation, more than 91,000 jobs have been sent overseas since Trump was elected, the highest rate of jobs lost to outsourcing in five years.”

The truth about Trump and unions

For more on Trump’s anti-union record click herehereherehereherehere, and here for proof. And herehereherehereherehereherehere, and here.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.

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Berry Craig
Berry Craig

Lifelong Kentuckian Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, recording secretary for the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, webmaster-editor for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, and a member of the state AFL-CIO Executive Board. His ninth book on the history of his state, “Kentuckians and Pearl Harbor: Stories from the Day of Infamy,” was published by the University Press of Kentucky in November 2020.