Union silence on impeaching Trump? No great surprise
Susan Walsh/AP

WASHINGTON–As of Labor Day, public pressure is rising to at the very least open an impeachment investigation of GOP President Donald Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” to quote the U.S. Constitution’s phrase.

But while half the House Democratic Caucus has now endorsed such a probe – increasing the demand on reluctant Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to accede – the labor movement’s leaders have been notably silent.

That shouldn’t be any great surprise. It’s part of the movement’s past pattern on issues that could split its ranks right down the middle, from the Indochina War of the 1960s and 1970s to the Green New Deal today.

The pressure to impeach Trump comes from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and many allied groups, such as MoveOn.org.

All cite Trump’s repeated obstruction of justice in his campaign to denigrate, suborn witnesses, hamper and kill the federal investigation of Russian manipulation of the 2016 presidential election. Russian President Vladimir Putin manipulated the balloting, all trying to elect Trump.

The impeachment pressure includes members of progressive unions, though not the unions themselves.

The reason is that on divisive social issues – and impeachment is one of them – the labor movement has two wings, and its leaders know damn well their own members are split between them. Impeachment is one. Gun control is another. Despite campaigning by the teachers unions, the AFL-CIO issues low-key calls for some restrictions on gun ownership, but no more.

Even leaders of the progressive wing, comprised of the Teachers (AFT), AFSCME, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Transport Workers, the Steelworkers, the National Education Association and especially National Nurses United, know not all their members agree Trump must go.

Thus while NEA President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia used the podium of her union’s convention over the Independence Day weekend to denounce Trump as a threat to the future of U.S. democracy, the convention voted down an immediate move to put it on record for impeaching Trump.

The ostensible reason was the impeachment drive would cost the NEA money it had not budgeted for 2019-20, a reason other such initiatives from the convention floor also lost. But at the same time, the nation’s largest union knows it must still act as an “association” in the multitude of red states where its members are more conservative, it faces right-wing state regimes or both.

They include Eskelsen-Garcia’s state, Utah, where her home, Salt Lake City, is more tolerant politically and more diverse racially and religiously than the rural regions and small cities of the Mormon-dominated state.

And union leaders know very well that exit polls show union households in the key and swing

Great Lakes states split 50-50 between GOP nominee Donald Trump, whom leaders opposed, and Democrat Hillary Clinton, whom they endorsed. In Ohio, 52% voted for Trump, said Building Trades

President Sean McGarvey. Many of those Trump voters were his unions’ members.

Further, it wasn’t just in the Great Lakes. The Government Employees (AFGE) endorsed Clinton, as did its president, J. David Cox, a North Carolinian whose state, at that time, was the least-unionized in the U.S.

But AFGE’s sector representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and Border Patrol officers was the only union sector in the U.S. to openly endorse Trump – because, its leader said, the members agreed with the GOPer’s characterization of the migrants from Mexico, and hated Democratic President Barack Obama’s restrictions on roundups. Trump has no curbs.

AFGE also represents large contingents of corrections officers, federal police forces and other law-enforcement personnel, and it has a high proportion of veterans. It’s virtually evenly split in party registration. So are the Fire Fighters, who have a noted, and justified, reputation for bipartisanship. But they were upset enough with the GOP that 62% of their members voted for Clinton in 2016, union President Harold Schaitberger says.

Nevertheless, the splits are long-running, which is why unions are silent not just about impeaching Trump, but were also silent about impeaching Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1998 and Republican President Richard Nixon in 1974, too. So-called “hardhats for Nixon” charged and beat Indochina War protesters in 1970. Meanwhile, the Auto Workers left the AFL-CIO over the federation’s support of the Indochina War. That, too, was a symptom of the split.

Union leaders know about this split. That’s why you hear Eskelsen-Garcia, Communications Workers President Chris Shelton and the entire NNU leadership denouncing Trump’s racism, sexism, and xenophobia – but why you won’t hear unions, as a group, demanding impeachment of Trump.


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.