State of Union: Trumka says Trump has “actively hurt” workers

WASHINGTON—After a year in the Oval Office, Republican President Donald Trump has “actively hurt” U.S. workers, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

“Broken promises are bad enough. But President Trump has also used his office to actively hurt working people,” Trumka told a roundtable in advance of Trump’s Jan. 30 State of the Union Address.

Trump “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 workplaces less safe. He has divided our country, abandoned our values and given cover to racism and other forms of bigotry,” Trumka said.

“At the end of the day, this is bigger than any politician or president. It’s about making progress for regular working people. If President Trump wants to change course and join us in the fight to raise wages and standards, strengthen our democracy and build better lives, we will be ready. But if he continues down his current path, workers will be looking for a new president in 2020,” the union leader promised.

Trumka wasn’t the only Trump critic who chimed in before the speech. Progressive women and Economic Policy Institute weighed in, too.

Trump used the speech to brag on the U.S. economy and tout his infrastructure rebuilding plan. But advance news about it from the White House disclosed he would include only $200 billion in federal funds – with the rest coming from states, cities and private-public “partnerships.”

That caught the critical eye of EPI analyst Josh Bivens. He said most of the private-public money would wind up in Wall Street’s pockets, rather than fixing the nation’s roads, bridges, railroads, airports and Internet infrastructure.

“Throughout the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump had little to say about infrastructure. It wasn’t until the end of the campaign…Trump offered a no-details boast that he would spend $1 trillion on infrastructure,” Bivens explained.

“A serious plan to invest in the nation’s infrastructure would be welcome indeed. Infrastructure investments would create jobs, boost the nation’s productivity growth, and provide vital public services to a wide range of Americans.”

“But the Trump campaign plan wasn’t just empty, but outright corrupt” featuring tax credits to private developers, and Trump’s new outline is “empty promises.”

Bivens said private investors – Wall Street – will use the federal loan guarantees Trump offers to fund the remainder of his infrastructure investment plan to line their pockets by issuing bonds for toll roads through rich communities, while refusing to fund new water pipes in poor neighborhoods, for example.

“The recently leaked Trump plan would kick the responsibility for funding infrastructure to states, or allow private developers to obtain federal loan guarantees in exchange for the privilege of collecting tolls from American taxpayers. That’s not an investment in the public good. It’s an open invitation for crony capitalism, corruption and rampant inequality of public investments across communities.”

Meanwhile, more than 500 progressive women from 50 groups, led by Rep. Pramila Jayapral, D-Wash., Ai_jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, BlackLivesMatter co-founder Alicia Garza and Cecile Richards, the soon-to-retire Planned Parenthood president, met at Washington’s National Press Club for their own livestreamed “State Of Our Union” to counter Trump – at the time he spoke.

And announced a pro-climate change conference in D.C. the following evening, featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., climate activist Bill McKibbon and representatives of the NAACP and the Hip-Hop Caucus to discuss climate change activism and the 2018 election, among other topics.

“One day after President Trump spews his vision for moving America even further away from being the global leaders confronting climate change we know we can and must be, movement leaders will share stories on the urgency of the current political and climate crises and light our path ahead: Resist the Trump administration’s ongoing attacks on our climate, build power toward the 2018 and 2020 elections, and secure the lasting change we need through local action,” the Sanders-led group said.

The women and their groups offered “an alternative vision for our country in which gender and economic justice can overcome forces that seek to divide our nation along fault lines of race and class.”

“There is nothing more powerful than women coming together and demanding change,” said Ai-jen Poo. “We have already demonstrated we are willing to carry more than our share of the weight in defending our democracy. It’s now time for action and solutions – on everything from sexual assault and harassment to low wages and pay equity, from elder care and childcare to paid family leave.”

Jayapal, one of at least 13 House Democrats who boycotted Trump’s speech, said the organizations and leaders gathered at the alternative D.C. site “will focus on the State of OUR Union, our opposition to his agenda, and we will lift up a progressive and inclusive vision of our country.”

“With all the racism and hatred coming out of this White House, I will NOT be attending Donald Trump’s State of the Union address,” Jayapal said.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee – critics of the weak Democratic response to Trump — set up a hashtag #TrumpSellsOut and sent out a statement explaining why: “Trump will continue selling out working people to Wall Street and the billionaire class — and he’ll continue to lie about it,” spokeswoman Marissa Barrow said.

“While we wish the Democratic establishment good luck in responding to Trump, progressives in Congress, on the campaign trail, and in living rooms across the nation will take our progressive response directly to voters on Twitter — talking about how #TrumpSellsOut Americans on every front. We’ll especially make clear Trump wants to sell off our roads and bridges to his rich Wall Street donors under the guise of an infrastructure plan — and that progressives want to create millions of good-paying jobs by investing in our roads, schools, bridges, clean water, and jobs of the future like solar and broadband.”

Trumka explained he gave Trump “every chance possible to deliver on his promises about trade, manufacturing and infrastructure,” including – though he did not say so – a private pre-inauguration meeting at New York’s Trump Tower.

“This angered some of my friends,” he admitted, as several unions are dead set against cooperating with Trump in any way. “But as a labor movement, we practice political independence. That means we always look for opportunities to advance the issues we care about, no matter what political party happens to be in power. And it also means we hold every elected leader accountable to our agenda and our values,” Trumka explained.

“Trump said a lot of the right things as a candidate. But his actions haven’t followed suit. There’s been no effort to label China as a currency manipulator. He’s rejected plans to revitalize our coal communities. And despite calling himself a ‘builder president,’ he’s done nothing to invest in America’s infrastructure.”

“Broken promises are bad enough. 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 workplaces less safe. He has divided our country, abandoned our values and given cover to racism and other forms of bigotry,” Trumka concluded.


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 tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.