Donald Trump and the U.S. Labor Movement

Weeks ago, when Donald Trump announced that he was visiting the Mexican-U.S. border at the invitation of the border workers union, the AFL-CIO intervened and Trump was uninvited.

To date we have been unable to find further actions or statements by the AFL-CIO in response to Trump’s many ultra-reactionary pronouncements, which the media has consistently been highlighting. These include his advocating the rapid deportation of 12 million “illegals”; his characterization of them as criminals, rapists and drug peddlers; his targeting of “gangs in Ferguson” and other cities he says should be among the first to be rounded up and expelled; and his reference to women in the most obscene, insulting, degrading and demeaning manner.

If Trump were some kind of isolated voice in the wilderness, he could simply be dismissed as a crackpot. But he currently leads the polls nationally and in a number of states when measured against his Republican rivals contending for their party’s nomination for president. And he is drawing the largest crowds by far when compared to them.

So why are AFL-CIO’s leaders remaining silent in the face of Trump’s vicious attacks against our members and workers as a whole? After all, we are talking here about our sisters and brothers, who are immigrants, women, members of oppressed nationalities and communities of color. Why suffer these attacks against them without responding to and exposing Trump for what he is—a spokesperson for the most reactionary wing of the corporate class?

Take, for example, his proposal to deport 12 million undocumented workers. How would this be carried out? By employing many more border guards, the National Guard, cops, militia, the army and every other repressive force in our society. Those members of the corporate class who oppose Trump’s proposal decry its costs as unsustainable. That may be, but the overriding objection is that it could convert our nation into a police state—obliterating civil liberties and civil rights and imposing an iron heel on dissent.

Past Reactionary and Repressive Movements

The U.S. has a long history of reactionary and repressive movements, policies, laws, institutions and practices. These include the Alien and Sedition Acts; slavery; the end of Reconstruction and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan; the internment of 120,000 Japanese plus thousands of Germans and Italians during World War II; deeply rooted xenophobia; the Gerald L.K. Smith movement; McCarthyism; the Un-American Activities Committee; the boycott of Hollywood actors and writers; jailings under the Smith Act, making it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the government by force and violence; gay and lesbian bashing; the massive incarceration of Blacks and other victims of racism; renditions and torture; lengthy and often indefinite detention of political prisoners; and the escalation of police violence and murder of so many unarmed Blacks.

At the same time, there have also been centuries of heroic actions and movements to preserve, protect and expand basic democratic rights, and these are being added to on a daily basis.

But with it all, the Trump phenomenon is unique in this respect: It has a mass base among nativists and others susceptible to Trump’s mouthings, and it is actively organizing all across the country, with sufficient funding to push forward its program—whatever that program is—while making it unnecessary to raise money from other sources.

Where is the Trump Movement Going?

Some people are dismissive about Trump’s prospects. They view his movement as ephemeral, not enduring. “Give him more rope and he’ll hang himself,” they confidently predict.

Others are far more concerned. They point out that Trump’s heated rhetoric spawns hatred and potential violence. This in an already too-violent and heavily armed nation.

One thing is clear: Trump has shown a talent for pouncing on developments and citing them as verification for positions he has taken. If, for example, an undocumented worker is charged with a murder in San Francisco, Trump says, “I told you so.” As China devalues its currency, which could cost jobs for U.S. workers, Trump’s reaction is the same: “I told you so.” He gives red meat on a daily basis to his followers, most of whom swallow what he says lock, stock and barrel.

Of course, the fertile ground that has allowed Trump to get a hearing would not be there were it not for the war at home and abroad carried out by Democrats and Republicans against working people. Money desperately needed to create jobs and improve living and working conditions here at home for the working class majority have gone to promote wars for oil in the Middle East and beyond, while Wall Street—not Main Street—has been bailed out to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.

It is this worsening economic situation affecting tens of millions of people that provides the political space for demagogues like Trump to be able to scapegoat immigrants and others—when it’s the banksters and their political representatives in both major political parties who are responsible for the misery that is being inflicted, not people fleeing repression and U.S.-promoted “free trade” agreements that are devastating their home countries.

Why Labor Must Take Trump Head-On

While there might not be agreement within the labor movement over the magnitude of the threat that Trump poses, there should at least be consensus on recognizing that he is an enemy of the working class. He has, in fact, already targeted labor as an obstacle to progress, making clear that he opposes the labor-backed increase in the minimum wage, while contending that wages are currently too high and are causing companies to move to lower-paying countries, resulting in the loss of jobs at home.

Depending on Democratic and Republican politicians to stop Trump in his tracks—in the absence of massive and vocal opposition from below—is an exercise in futility. What is needed instead is building an independent movement led by labor, in partnership with our community partners, which takes a clear-cut stand exposing Trump as a spokesperson for the most reactionary wing of the ruling class.

As conditions worsen, people like Trump and his followers will exploit the situation and argue that there is no alternative to the simplistic solutions that Trump puts forward. It is essential that the labor movement provides that alternative with a program that reflects the interests of the working class majority and mobilizes to win support for its provisions. That is how to most effectively deal with the Trump phenomenon.

As spelled out in a statement by the Black Labor Collaborative titled, “A Future for Workers: A Contribution from Black Labor”: “If the labor movement does not raise its own flag and rally the vast majority of those who are seeing their dreams squeezed out of existence by global capitalism, it is quite possible that the developing anger will be channeled in dangerous directions, e.g., towards right-wing populism. Right-wing populism is an illness of anger, intolerance and irrationality that frequently emerges within capitalism during times of pressure and crisis, times such as those in which we live. As such, the forces of progress have little time to waste and, indeed, we must continue to recognize that failure is not an option.”

Money for jobs, housing, education, and public services—not for war!
End the U.S. wars in the Middle East! Out Now!
Stop the TPP in its tracks!

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About elnwebmaster

This is the discussion blog of the Labor Fightback Network, an auxiliary to the laborfightback.org website. It is designed to facilitate discussion among labor activists concerning the critical issues facing working people in the current economic crisis. Readers’ comments are welcome, but flaming is not. Any comments which are racist, sexist/homophobic, or disrespectful on a personal level will not get past moderation.
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