House of Labor divided over Trump

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Every unionized worker knows that their boss would love to see unions toothless, or gone altogether. The bosses are on the offense to achieve that goal, courtesy of Trump and his cohorts. To stop this, workers need a united labor movement ready to fight this reactionary juggernaut, including the bigoted assault on immigrants, refugees and Muslims.

Disturbingly, many union leaders are striking a conciliatory tone instead, or even supporting Trump. Recently AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka signaled his readiness to go along with the new president, saying “If he does something that is good for the economy and workers, we’re going to be behind him.”

Cheerleading a class enemy. At a Jan. 23 meeting with Trump, national leaders of the Building Trades unions went far beyond conciliation. Some were giddy after Trump promised hundreds of thousands of infrastructure jobs. Doug McCarron, head of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, gushed about the president’s inaugural address, proclaiming “… that was a great moment for working class men and women in the United States.”

Cozying up to employers and their political representatives isn’t new. In the early 20th century American Federation of Labor (AFL) leaders joined capitalists and financiers to form the National Civic Federation, and they actually opposed organizing unions for lower-skilled workers.

Militants followed a more inclusive approach during the titanic labor upsurge of the 1930s, when millions of workers were organized into industry-wide unions. This brought unions to their zenith of power, where they represented 35 percent of the U.S. labor force.

But over the last several decades, unions have been under attack, and today represent under 11 percent of the workforce (only 6.4 percent in the private sector). Union jobs, such as in auto and steel, have disappeared with the decent living standard they provided.

Union leaders who support Trump may be reacting to their members’ desperate desire for change. But they do the ranks a grave disservice by embracing the reactionary approach of the old AFL, and looking the other way as the bosses use bigotry to divide workers and keep the profits rolling in.

They should be educating members on the real source of labor’s strength — exercising solidarity with the entire working class. This combined with independent political action is the change workers need, not Trump’s right-wing populism.

Imagine: instead of throwing millions of workers under Trump’s bus to get short term jobs, labor leaders could crank up the heat on both capitalist parties to demand jobs for all through rebuilding infrastructure and a mass public jobs program.

Getting played. Supporting Trump will yield disaster. But uniting with labor’s natural allies will build political capital. For instance, some unionists in construction trades and manufacturing are joining climate activists to fight for a transition to sustainable energy sources and expanded mass transit. This would provide millions of jobs. But their union leaders are backing polluting projects like the Dakota Access pipeline.

Trump must be pleased with his skillful use of divide and conquer tactics. He garners some pro-labor cover while laying plans for mass deportations of undocumented workers and union-busting legislation. Meanwhile, his pals in Congress hope to repeal the Davis Bacon Act, which protects prevailing wages, and union jobs. So how many of the new jobs created by Trump will be unionized, or pay decent wages?

Targets with union cards. Public employees still have a unionization rate of 35 percent, and therefore find themselves in the cross-hairs. Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court will likely mean that a case headed to the Court, Janus vs. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), will impose “Right-to-Work” on public sector employment throughout the U.S. Some unions estimate they could lose over half their members.

Another threat is the coming war on social services. The new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is a privatizer. Congress is poised to shred the entire social safety net and slash funding for federal regulatory agencies. Mass layoffs loom.

The members of public employee unions, along with service sector unions like UNITE-HERE that represents hotel workers, are majority women, people of color, and immigrants. They are angry about the racist and misogynist attacks coming from the real estate mogul. The president of Service Employees International Union, Mary Kay Henry, says about Trump, “Our key job is to keep exposing the contradictions between his actions and his words.”

Many members of SEIU and other unions have joined anti-Trump protests, though generally this has not been organized by the unions. Leaders of these unions are more likely to show opposition to Trump, but this isn’t enough. It’s time for unions to lead in fighting alongside the community to defend labor, immigrant, and civil rights.

All out for a general strike! To this end, a growing number of union locals are calling for a general strike on May Day 2017. Motions and resolutions for such a strike have been passed by unions representing nurses in Minneapolis and Philadelphia, and teachers, student academic employees, and state workers in Seattle.

A resolution from the Wash. Federation of State Employees (WFSE) Local 304 puts forth demands to stop the attacks on women, immigrants, workers of color, and unions. For a copy visit

Rank-and-filers in other unions are using this resolution to build support for a general strike, and specifically for May Day actions being called nationally by immigrant workers’ organizations.

Members in unions whose leaders are currently supporting Trump are hopeful that solidarity can prevail over opportunism, if they agitate and educate from the bottom up. Pacific Northwest Regional Carpenters passed a resolution vowing to mobilize against the growing racist/fascist attacks on immigrants.

A general strike with clear demands is labor’s most potent weapon and could throw sand in Trump’s reactionary machine. The gains won for workers through a century of struggle are at stake. The time to fight together is now!


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