Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., April 24, 25 or 26
“Instead of throwing up their hands, Democrats need to roll up their sleeves,” says Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, representing Carrier workers in Indiana.
“Confront the corporations, donors be damned,” adds Jones, who blames unfair trade pacts – signed by Democratic Presidents – as a factor in Democrats’ loss of union support. “My message to the Democratic Party is that we need leaders with the guts to stand up to Wall Street and defend working people.”
Jones suggests organizing to back important legislative proposals such as the Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure and also the Corporate Tax Dodging Prevention Act.
“What I saw in the Indiana primary was workers getting excited about Bernie Sanders,” Jones says. “But after Bernie was eliminated, a lot of workers started drinking the Trump Kool-Aid or just plain took a pass on the election.”
Some working-class Americans and Democrats voted for Trump because the Democratic Party had stopped listening to them and because it had no economic message in the presidential campaign, according to Tom Perez, the new chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
The DNC took workers for granted, even ignoring the AFL-CIO’s Working America group’s warning that Trump’s criticisms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and similar pacts were winning over union members in the Rust Belt.
The consequences: Most major international-union leadership supported Clinton, but only 43 percent of voters in union households voted for Trump. Plus, the change since 2012 was more about losing ground from the Obama base (Clinton finished 7 points below Obama) than a boost in GOP voters (Trump bested Romney by just 3 points).
The Democratic Party erred by concentrating on the presidency instead of the message, admitted Perez, Obama’s Labor Secretary.
“When voters heard [Trump saying] ‘I’ll bring your jobs back’ in the coal country, they also heard ‘I feel your pain’,” Perez said. “What they heard from the Democrats was ‘Vote for me because he’s crazy.’
“I think our (economic) message resonates, but not if you’re not out there,” Perez continued. “Part of the reason we didn’t do well in those areas is because we didn’t show up.”
Also, too many Democrats stopped respecting or appreciating regular working people and unions.
Besides representing more than 1 in 10 U.S. workers – 14.6 million Americans – organized labor has a lot to offer: a rich history, seasoned leaders and, most significantly, an immediate connection to workers. For organized labor, the potential of a revived alliance is also significant. It can renew the commitment to social and political change, reminding workers and their leaders that unions are more than just vehicles for economic gain.
Trump’s promises to end trade deals and put tariffs on manufacturing imports aligned with long-standing labor opposition to pro-corporate globalization. However, what wasn’t pointed out effectively by Clinton’s campaign was that Trump also proposes tax, budget and social welfare policies that would impoverish most workers. Further, his Cabinet nominees have been shown to be enemies of workers’ rights, and his executive policies, legislative priorities and any future Supreme Court appointments point toward disastrous restrictions on working people.
To combat such a disaster, Jeremy Brecher (author of “Building Bridges: The Emerging Grassroots Alliance of Labor and Community”) suggests ways to spark a real resistance to a route to catastrophe: a genuine alliance of unions to fight Trump’s agenda; “social self-defense” (solidarity with all unions and other progressive endeavors); and reviving the idea of full employment – especially dealing with climate change and building a new economy.
“Now is the time to reach out to each other and create a unified voice for labor as a crucial strand of social self-defense against Trump and Trumpism,” Brecher says.
Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research adds that it makes sense to align in alliances.
“Even if we didn't give a damn about the white working-class voters that supported Trump, we should still be promoting policies that reverse the massive upward redistribution [of wealth] we have seen over the last four decades,” he says. “These policies may not get the white working class to vote for progressive candidates instead of racist demagogues like Donald Trump. But it is the right thing to do. It will help the working class of all races, including the white working class.”
[PICTURED: Part of the cover of Thomas Frank's book, "Listen Liberal."]