Trumka to Trump: Which side are you on?
AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka addresses National Press Club. AFL-CIO photo.

WASHINGTON – Speaking at the National Press Club here yesterday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said “President Trump needs to decide who he stands with. The coal miners, farmers, steelworkers and other regular Americans who he promised to help in the campaign … or the Wall Street tycoons who are rigging the economy at our expense.”

Donald Trump made his decision clear almost at the same time Trumka was asking him to make it.

In a speech he was giving across town to building trade union representatives, Trump described his plans for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure but did not say it would create good paying jobs, even though it will put billions of dollars into the coffers of private construction companies.

Nor did Trump address the fact that his proposed changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will allow corporations to continue to wring billions from both the U.S. and Mexico while doing virtually nothing to stop them from skirting health, safety and environmental laws.

Trump received boos from the audience several times, particularly when he told the unionists that he believed most of them had voted for him. The building trades unions had endorsed Hillary Clinton.

“Do you want to make a change,” Trump asked them sarcastically. “If you do you’ll get a lot less jobs,” he threatened.

Meanwhile, in his speech at the Press Club, Rich Trumka said “President Trump has already rolled back important federal regulations that keep us safe on the job. His executive orders on immigration criminalize our workplaces and violate our basic principles. And by delaying the fiduciary rule which says financial advisers must act in your best interest, working people could lose more than a quarter of our retirement money.

“Then there’s the president’s budget,” Trumka said. “In the end, a budget is more than a set of numbers. It’s a values document. It’s how we know if you put your money where your mouth is.”

“And this budget,” Trumka stressed, “fails that test.”

He said that the most important issue we face today is inequality.

“Republicans, and too many Democrats,” he said, “have rigged our economy to enrich a select few at the expense of everyday, hardworking Americans.”

What’s more, “For a woman to earn as much as a man, she has to work a full year, plus an extra 100 days, all the way to April 4.

“For women of color, it’s even longer.”

The pay gap between women and men, Trumka said, “is just one symptom of a much larger problem. Our economy is historically out of balance, tilted steeply against working people and in favor of corporations.”

There is today, he continued, “a direct assault on our deeply held national values of unity, justice and broad opportunity.

This assault, he said, is being done “under the guise of creating jobs and justified by a fanatical economic theory that seeks to remove or destroy anything seen as a barrier to the free market, including unions.

“We see it in our trade deals that create special rights for corporations. We see it in our health care system that is a windfall for insurance companies and a complicated, unaffordable mess for patients and families. We see it in our financial sector that has become the master, not the servant, of the real economy.

And above all, “we see it in our outdated labor laws that allow employers to steal wages and unfairly restrict the freedom of workers to form unions.”

“But inequality is not inevitable,” Trumka said, “it is a choice.

“We can choose to do better”

Doing better, he said, means guaranteeing “every worker has the power to bargain with our employer. Nothing else raises wages better or more fairly.”

Trumka proposed creating a system in which “every worker … everybody” gets the opportunity to have “a job and the power to make it a good job … to bargain for higher wages, safe working conditions and retirement security.

“[No matter your race or ethnic group], gay or straight, immigrant or native-born, union or not yet union. If you tend crops in North Carolina or clean hotel rooms in New York City, if you’re an engineer in Seattle or an autoworker in Mississippi, you should have the right to bargain with your co-workers for a better life.

“And employers must abide by that right.”

“There has never been a more important time for workers to assert our collective power,” Trumka concluded, “[because] quite frankly, I am concerned that the Wall Street wing of the White House is starting to hijack the agenda.”

To read Trumka’s complete speech, click here.



Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.