President-elect Donald Trump, a supposedly populist candidate who rose to power on promises made to frustrated American workers, has now seemingly launched what Politico is describing as an outright “war on unions.”
Labor leaders and advocates across the nation are rallying in support of United Steelworkers Local 1999 president Chuck Jones, after Trump publicly attacked the Indiana union leader for calling him out for lying about the number of Carrier jobs the incoming president claimed to have saved from being outsourced to Mexico.
“An attack on [Jones] is an attack on all working people,” Richard Trumka, president of the nation’s largest union federation AFL-CIO, declared Thursday.
The hashtag #ImWithChuck has drawn a groundswell of support for Jones, including from national labor groups and prominent progressive politicians Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who called Jones personally on Thursday to “commend him for holding the president-elect accountable.”
Amid that public battle, Trump doubled-down on his anti-worker agenda on Thursday with the nomination of fast-food executive and union critic Andrew Puzder for secretary of Labor.
“Trump might as well rebrand the Labor Department as the ‘anti-worker department,’” Politico reported SEIU president Mary Kay Henry as saying. “Somebody like Andrew Puzder earns in one day what the workers in his stores earn in a year,” Henry added, pointing to the low wages earned by workers at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, which are part of Pudzer’s CKE Restaurants. “The absolute economic inequality that he represents is the actual thing that we’ve counted on the Labor Department to stand against.”
In a nod to the impropriety of that nomination, Jones himself opened up a press conference Friday morning with the joke, “I was not offered a job as secretary of Labor. That’s off the table.”
The feud with Jones, followed up with his nomination of Pudzer, have together sent a clear message to labor groups and American workers that, despite his campaign rhetoric, the president-elect is not on their side.
“Anyone who believes in robust, pluralistic democracy should be worried that a national leader, so soon after being elected, is assailing labor unions with an eye to weakening them,” wrote former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse on Thursday.
“It’s part of a larger agenda,” RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, told Politico, “and you can see it playing out in terms of his picks, which is to destroy the labor movement.”
“They want to do away with democracy,” she continued. “That’s the problem. Labor is a check on the balance of power with corporations and they want labor out of the way.”
Attacking a union’s leadership, saying “no wonder companies are fleeing the country,” the union should have “kept those jobs in Indiana” and saying the union should “spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues.” is classic management anti-union propaganda. Saying the union is costing jobs is a union busting tactic intended to drive a wedge between the union and rank-and-file workers.
This anti-union action shows the mindset of Trump toward working people. It sends a signal. If unions try to help their membership, and challenge Trump’s tactics and facts, Trump will attack them and threaten their leadership.
But it appears Trump may have picked a fight with some tough actors. In a Thursday Washington Post op-ed, Jones shrugged off the taunts of the president-elect and threatening phone calls received from Trump supporters.
“I’ve been doing this job for 30 years,” he wrote. “In that time, people have threatened to shoot me, to burn my house down. I’m not a macho man, but I’m just used to it.”
“What I can’t abide,” Jones continued, “is a president who misleads workers, who gives them false hope. We’re not asking for anything besides opportunity, for jobs that let people provide for their families. These plants are profitable, and the workers produced a good-quality product. Because of corporate greed, though, company leaders are racing to the bottom, to find places where they can pay the least. It’s a system that exploits everyone.”
Larry Cohen, former president of the Communications Workers of America and board chair of the Sanders-inspired Our Revolution movement, predicts a reckoning awaits Trump by a coalition of working class Americans.
“The movement against Trump’s bullying is larger than United Steelworkers, and larger than labor,” Cohen wrote in a Friday op-ed. A national network based on mutual aid is growing and includes Muslims, immigrants, environmentalists, faith-based groups, and people who expect fairness and are willing to stand up to bullies, no matter how rich or powerful.”
Trump is like a Goliath of great wealth and political power. At times, he might toss gifts to the masses like a 19th-century monarch, but his strategy of attacking and dividing working families will clearly lead to net losses for them and big gains for corporate management at multinationals like UT. Working-class unity is the ammo Chuck Jones and workers across this nation need for their sling shots.
Unlike in David’s story, the rest of us can’t sit back and watch. We need to build that army of resistance and create a vision of the future based on unity not hatred.
As for Carrier, Jones said Friday, “They don’t give a rat’s ass about what they are doing to the people or the community . . . It’s all about how much money they can make.”
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Lauren McCauley is a Common Dreams staff writer.