Since November 8, the heroic movement to stop the Immigration ban and the acts of communities to fight back against deportations, along with the historic women’s march in defiance of Trump’s Sexism has been inspiring. Workers and youth are realizing we can halt right-wing attacks and even win – if we fight back. The labor movement should be joining in the fightback against sexism, racism, and deportations while demanding medicare for all and massive investment to create millions of green jobs at union pay.
Unfortunately, the approach of most – but not all – union leaders has been disappointing. The building trades leadership has taken the worst position of all, getting friendly with Trump on the narrow question of jobs alone. As Sean McGarvey, President of North America’s Building Trades Unions said, “We come from the same industry. He [Trump] understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class” (New York Times, 1/23/2017). These statements came as politicians are lining up to attack the Holy Grail of the building trades – the Prevailing Wage laws that protect wages on federal projects for skilled workers.
Infrastructure improvement is desperately needed, but the question is: Which infrastructure projects? In the same New York Times article McGarvey refers to working with Trump in Atlantic City in the ‘90s. Those short sighted plans for infrastructure and jobs have left Atlantic City a ghost town today (Business Insider, 1/31/2016).
We Need a Fighting Labor Movement
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has taken a confusing and mistaken approach as well. In the run up to the election and inauguration he was outspoken condemning Trump’s racism and sexism along with calling out his cabinet selections and their horrendous view on minimum wages and working conditions. Trumka even wrote an op-ed for the New York Times “Don’t Let Trump Speak for Workers” (12/27/2016). But then in January, after a private meeting in Trump Tower, Trumka posted on Twitter “A very honest and productive conversation this morning with @realDonaldTrump.” Trumka then praised Trump’s February 28 speech to congress saying that it was “probably his finest hour as President” (Fox Business News, 3/1/2017). Then, days later, Trumka came out attacking Trump’s health care plan calling it a “massive transfer of wealth for working people to Wall Street” (CNN).
— Richard L. Trumka (@RichardTrumka) January 13, 2017
As the threat of national Right to Work looms, Trumka’s wavering back and forth about how to approach Trump is not sending a clear message of what is necessary. Mobilization and organizing in the ranks is needed. With the anger towards Trump, and his slumping popularity, the labor movement has a massive opportunity to rebuild its own strength and authority by unambiguously joining the fight against Trump’s anti-working class agenda.
It is only the workers and their organizations along with the broader community that can actually help themselves. Trumka should be clear and, while continuing to question Trump, outline a clear fighting strategy.
There are unions showing what a fighting approach looks like. For example, on the issue of health care and the destruction of the ACA, National Nurses United (NNU) is saying “We don’t need insurance we need medicare for all!” NNU, the Communication Workers of America, and the Amalgamated Transit Union are calling for the end of the DAPL and the Keystone XL pipelines and calling for green jobs. These demands need to be taken one step further and tied to a national green jobs program and linked with the building trades.
Unions should be looking to the past as well in how to fight back. The next time a plant closure is threatened, such as at Carrier in Indiana – where Trump swooped in falsely claiming he was saving jobs – Trumka should call for those workers to occupy it like the United Auto Workers occupied the Flint Factory GM plants in 1937. Occupy it and demand that it brought into public ownership and transformed into a plant for green technology.
We can no longer be divided in labor – in the era of Trump we must unite and fight together!