Saturday, March 25, 2017

Trumka, Trump and the White Worker

Trump and AFL-CIO head Trumka
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Richard Trumka is upset. Trumka is the head of the AFL-CIO, the national trade union federation representing 12.5 million US workers. He’s mad at the “moderates” in the White House who are “starting to hijack Trump’s trade agenda.” making it hard for Trump to keep his promises. He didn’t call out China for being a currency manipulator on his first day in office as he promised. He hasn’t opened negotiations on NAFTA as he promised and he hasn’t said anything about imposing “steep tariffs on China and Mexico” as he promised.  Trumka would say he’s happy Trump didn’t lock up Clinton or fulfill his pledge to get rid of Obamacare most likely. It’s trade Trumka is concerned about, he wants the US government to force US capitalists to invest in and hire American workers.

Trumka is a protectionist.  He ignores the lessons of Smoot Hawley, the series of protectionist measures introduced to protect US industry in 1930 right after the Great Depression hit. US trading partners retaliated and Smoot Hawley made the depression and suffering worse, helping drive the move to world war. The world economy is far more integrated now than it was then and the “moderates” know that. And where does Trumka's position put solidarity across borders? How is siding with US capitalists against their foreign rivals help us build solidarity with foreign workers working for those rivals? You're right---it doesn't. What Trumka is saying is lay off Germans, lay off Japanese or Mexicans or whatever. It's a disaster, the Team Concept at the international level.

Trumka and the clique atop organized labor are picky when it comes to criticism mind you. Their buddy Obama screwed them with the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), an issue so important paid staffers around the country were touting it as the savior of the labor movement----for them. Obama abandoned the “government option” another promise, as he crafted Obamacare that has some good points as evidenced by the inability of the present gang to dismantle it; though it is completely inadequate as a health care system for a nation of 300 million people.

The union hierarchy has literally given billions of dollars over the years to the Democratic Party, that other party of Wall Street. Their candidate, Hillary Clinton received $31 million in the race against Trump. In one of those rare moments when the two most unpopular candidates in the history of US politics were on offer, the likes of Trumka and the union officialdom and most of the US bourgeois found themselves cheering for the same person.

Years of supporting the Democratic Party and offering concession after concession to the bosses’ in the hope of better days has driven millions of workers to abandon politics altogether. Why bother voting when the only result has been lower living standards? The relationship the union leadership has built with the bosses' based on labor peace and safeguarding profits, has lead many workers and union members, to draw the conclusion that their leaders are simply corrupt.

The likes of Trumka have no independent ideas of their own. They often come out of the universities and think tanks of the capitalist class where they soak up their economic policies and political world outlook like a sponge. The fact is that we live in a world economy like it or not, the laws of capitalism dictate it. Yet within this world economy the existence of nation states each with competing interests act as a constant obstacle to growth, a source of friction and eventually war. The argument for free trade on the one hand or protectionist policies on the other are different capitalist solutions to an insoluble problem, they both lead to disaster for workers.  Globalization has alleviated this problem to a degree, but only temporarily. Only a rational, collectively owned managed and planned global system of production can overcome this contradiction and open a period of genuine cooperation and peace between a global federation of democratic socialist states.

This is not an option for the heads of organized labor so they flip flop from one extreme to the other, each of them trying to protect their little corner of the labor broker market as that’s how they see themselves, they are labor brokers and its their job to provide this valuable commodity to capitalists at the best possible price under the most favorable conditions.

Before Trump’s election victory, a victory the vast majority of experts did not foresee, Trumka savaged Trump. “Trump is Trump….” , he told the Financial Times in September, “……He’s a racist, he’s a bigot, he’s xenophobic and he’s a misogynist. But most of all he’s anti-worker. He’s always been anti-worker,”  Trumka was convinced Trump would lose you see, hence the vitriolic tone.  As we say in the US, "Who's your daddy now?"

When he met with Trump in January of this year, Trumka said: “We had a very productive first meeting with the President-elect,”  Not be outdone by the Predator in Chief he rushed out a tweet: "A very honest and productive conversation this morning with @realDonaldTrump,"

Trumka and the whole lot of them that pledged to "work with" rather than "against" this degenerate and enemy of working people have to be sent packing.

Now Trumka is defending him against the moderate free traders who are “hijacking” his plan.

As I have stated before, the leadership at the helm of organized labor are responsible for the rise of Trump. They are the reason workers do not have a party of our own and the movement against the capitalist offensive has been delayed and will, as it arises, be wracked with confusion at times and periods of reaction and violence as the US working class struggles to find its feet.

Too many opportunities have been lost. Over decades, we have seen a steady decline in living standards and rising inequality as a minority of families accumulate untold wealth. The security state has grown in preparation for the battles to come. Workers’ efforts to fight back like the numerous strikes in the 1980’s and early nineties were defeated by a combination of the employers and our own leaders. Only recently, building trades leaders met with Trump and praised him as the public sector union heads accept fate and hope they can get their Democratic friends in to office in 2020. They continue to urge workers to vote for a political party they abandoned long ago.

Racism has been very effective method of dividing the working class in the US as white workers got the better jobs, better housing, education, and generally a better life. Black Americans have historically been denied an entry in to this world and all statistics bear this out. From slavery through Jim Crow and today, institutionalized racism has created two worlds here.

But it has become harder for the US ruling class to provide these benefits to the white worker. If racism was a good thing for the white worker we would have had a better standard of living in the Apartheid South but we didn't. Racism was stronger, unions and worker solidarity weaker and wages and conditions worse.

The post war blue collar jobs that were an entry in to the middle class for white workers in particular have gone. After Trump’s Nov. 8 win, Trumka said he reached out to the Trump to say he was willing to work with him on improving existing trade agreement. “Entire communities have lost their purpose and identity. And we have to fix that,” Trumka said. First off, Trump doesn't give a crap that Trumka reached out to him, he's not afraid of Trumka.  And Trumka is wrong on this jobs issue. These jobs have not solely gone to China as he wants us to believe but fallen prey to innovation and technology. These jobs are not coming back.

This and the disgust millions of workers have with the two capitalist parties and consequently politics in general was another opportunity lost. Millions of workers have given up. Others saw in Trump a rebel, not one of the Washington crowd they hate. On the left, the Democrat Sanders had the same appeal.  Many of the white working class voters that voted for Trump had previously voted for Obama.

US capitalism is forced by the system to drive down the living standards of the US working class and the white working class has not been exempt. The life expectancy of white workers without a college degree is declining. There is massive white, mostly rural poverty and as the Financial Times points out, “In 1999, white men and women aged 50 to 54 with a high school education had a mortality rate 30% lower than black Americans. In 2015 it was 30% higher.”*

This is a staggering statistic. It has only recently been raised to any significant extent and is masked to a degree by the declining mortality rate among college educated white Americans. The information is in a paper published yesterday by two economists, Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton.  This is a generation abandoned by capitalism, a generation whose parents benefited from institutionalized racism in the US and the rise of US power in the post World War Two era.

Opioids have been a contributor to this crisis but drug addiction, the health care system and the statistics above are all a product of the so-called free market. “There was something rotten going on even before Oxycotin was introduced,….”, says Ms Case, “…people want to feed the beast (of despair). They may do that with drugs. They may do that with alcohol. They may do that with food.” I might add with stuff that looks like food and fills the belly and they may also do it with religion.

Another opportunity is lost. The conditions are ripe for an alternative in the US. Had the heads of organized labor offered one, used the resources, human and financial, and their control of an apparatus with a huge national structure to attack the source of the problem, many of the people that were drawn to Trump or Sanders would have provided the base for a real working class movement and political alternative to Trump and Clinton. One third of Sanders supporters went over to Trump from what I read. People do desperate things in desperate times.

But Trumka and the trade union hierarchy offered Clinton to the masses. The heads of organized labor are primarily to blame for the rise of Trump and his election. And now we have him, they will “work” with him. The union member has a responsibility here to remove this clique that heads our organizations.

I would like to finish with this point. I understand that many white workers that voted for Trump did so out of desperation. A lot of them voted for Obama and received no relief, millions of blacks received no relief under Obama also. Am I correct in saying only 12% of black folks turned out to vote last November? These white workers put aside, ignored the horrible racist, sexist and vicious anti-immigrant campaign Trump ran. “I’m no racist, just get me a job, I have to feed the family.”

Well not only will Trump not get them a job; he will savage them further and they are in an even weaker position now because by voting for Trump, supporting Trump in any way, not openly condemning Trump for the degenerate that he is, those white workers sacrificed unity with workers of color and women for a pipe dream. They kept their mouths shut in the hope this degenerate would help them out and in doing this they have weakened their own ability to fight back.  I want to make it openly clear, it is not difficult to overcome the crises we are all facing, a crisis of capitalism, but we have to have working class unity to do it. And part of that is for us as white workers is to make it absolutely clear that we will not be conned in to this false unity with the white capitalist class that rule society based on a unity of skin tone. They have no love for us.

“This looks like a generation that is never going to recover from this and as they get older its going to get worse.” said Deaton, the other author of the paper.

Deaton doesn’t see the working class as a force at all in society, if he does think of it, it is likely in a negative light. But the working class will fight back and it will seek class allies in that process. Those that voted for Trump would have been in a stronger position now had they not voted for anyone. More importantly, if they had openly condemned his racist and sexist attacks on other sections of the working class. This would have changed the balance of class forces in our favor rather than divide and weaken us.

It’s never too late of course, and if we are to drive back the capitalist offensive, overcoming institutionalized racism and other forms of class division is crucial.

* White ‘deaths of despair” Surge in the US:  FT 3-26-17

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