Retired Steelworker leader Jones backs Biden but wishes it was Bernie
In this photo Trump met with workers at the Carrier plant where, according to Jones, he "lied his ass off" about saving their jobs. | AP

INDIANAPOLIS—Chuck Jones, the retired Steelworkers Local 1999 president who became famous for debunking then-President-elect Donald Trump’s lies about the Carrier plant closure outside Indianapolis almost four years ago, is going to vote for Joe Biden.

But Jones really wishes he was voting for Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., the last man standing against former veep Biden in the once-crowded Democratic presidential primary campaign this year. Sanders has suspended his drive to win the party’s 2020 nod.

Jones gained national fame when Trump, with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in tow, came to the Carrier plant after he won the 2016 electoral vote majority, and Indiana, to brag he had saved all 1,280 jobs in the profitable plant.

Carrier’s parent firm,  United Technologies, planned to shut the plant and move its machinery and jobs to Monterrey, Mexico, where workers made $2 an hour, with no benefits—and no union.

The catch was that an hour before Trump arrived, UTC officials gathered the local’s 10 top leaders in a small room and told them that in reality 730 jobs would remain in Indiana and 550 would move to Mexico.

Then Trump came and addressed a crowd of about 100 workers, Jones told a July 7 zoom teleconference of Our Revolution Indiana, the state affiliate of the national organization of Sanders supporters set up after the senator lost to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries. She, in turn, lost the general election’s electoral votes to Trump.

“He started talking about how UTC would keep the plant here and he said he saved their jobs. People were literally crying, and saying ‘Thank you, president-elect Trump. Thank you, Gov. Pence.” Pence, now Trump’s VP, also arranged state tax breaks for Carrier.

“They were whooping and hollering,” Jones recalled. “He spoke for an hour that Thursday and never gave them the real numbers. We went back to the union hall and ran off fliers” with the actual figures. The union’s fliers were all over the plant the next day, and when workers asked management whom to believe, the answer was “the union’s numbers are right.”

“Trump lied his ass off and put on a dog-and-pony show,” Jones said, a point he made to media firms that called.

Jones became nationally known for calling Trump out on the latter’s lies. He also became a target of venomous Trump tweets. But even before the 2016 election, Sanders had stepped forward. In a phone call to Jones, had promised to “help in any way I can.” The two later met for breakfast to talk over the conditions facing Carrier’s workers.

“He told me that and said ‘Here’s my number’—a senator from Vermont concerned about guys in Indiana. That meant something,” Jones told the Our Revolution group.

Jones told the crowd on the zoom call that he could understand why so many Midwestern industrial workers, including members of his local, backed Trump in 2016. The Republican, Jones said, kept promising to bring back factory jobs to the U.S.

“He could have been a hero and said ‘I saved part of the jobs,’” Jones said of Trump’s hour-long talk at Carrier. “No. With his big ego, he lied.”

Meanwhile, Clinton was saddled with her prior support of so-called “free trade” treaties, and especially with her husband’s successful push, as president, to force the jobs-losing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through Congress.

“Trump won because we had a flawed candidate,” specifically because of that, “and our ‘friends’ went with NAFTA under Bill (Clinton),” Jones said.

NAFTA, now replaced by the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement which took effect July 1, let UTC move the Carrier jobs to Mexico, Jones said. During the campaign, so had Trump.  Another profitable factory just down the road from Carrier, Rexnord, where Jones worked, moved to Mexico, too. Job loss: 350.

“This was corporate greed,” Jones said of both Carrier and Rexnord. “Enough’s not enough.”

Retired Steelworkers Local 1999 President Chuck Jones. | AP

Jones, who retired from Rexnord and the union presidency after a 30-year stint with the Steelworkers, is now a Wayne Township trustee in Marion County, Ind., which is dominated by the state capital, Indianapolis. He backs Biden, though he wishes Sanders was the nominee.

Trump “sold them a bag of s**t and we’ve got to vote him out,” Jones said. That’s the message he carries to his USW friends and neighbors, many of whom, in their mid-50s with homes, cars and mortgages, had to take 50% pay cuts at new jobs, when they could find them.

“I’ve seen a lot of repos” of workers cars since Carrier lost its jobs, Jones said. “And kids had to drop out of college.”

And while Jones trusts Sanders and says Biden has a much more pro-worker record than Clinton, he still doesn’t fully trust the national Democrats as a group to stand up for workers. And when they don’t, he adds, the entire country gets in trouble.

“If we don’t keep the politicians accountable, we’ll lose all our jobs,” he warned. “You saw what happened when we needed the face masks and the respirators” when the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. “We’re dependent on them coming from another country.”

While Jones did not say so, Biden knows that, too.  A few hours before Jones spoke in the evening, Biden unveiled a plan to solve that essential supply problem. It’s on his website.


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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