The fight to resist Donald Trump’s presidency has never been merely a matter of party affiliation. His policies, and his political and personal horrors, damage the office and the nation beyond the level of conservative ideals, in ways that should frighten honest people all across the political spectrum. In the process, he has pulled his support from outside of the usual Republican sources of strength. One area in particular that represents a shift from what we typically see comes from labor unions. Normally a dependable source of Democratic support, several unions lined up in support of Trump, surprising Hillary Clinton and many who expected the usual support for the Democratic ticket.
Unfortunately, Trump did not earn this support based on policies that help the rank and file union members. In fact, he has employed his usual brand of duplicity to pay lip service to blue collar workers’ needs, while working systematically to take down labor rights won over several decades of experience. And the union leadership continues to support his devastating approach to labor relations.
Why Unions Support Trump
As both a candidate and President, Trump has worked to speak directly to workers’ needs. He promised a resurgence of blue collar jobs, fueled through deregulation and magical economic growth, all packaged in his promise to “make America great again.” He promised renewed emphasis on coal and oil, and protectionist policies that would turn away from a globalist perspective and toward building the United States’ job market.
Union members and their leaders swallowed Trump’s message whole. They cheered the idea of eliminating environmental regulations and the burden of protecting our nation’s water and air, because if Trump were to deliver on his promises, he would help generate more money for workers and the companies that employ them. He would magically revive industries that have fallen back as the world moves forward, and give short term boosts to union members that thus helped the union leadership build up their own image.
And of course, this all happened during a campaign in which the Democratic candidate did not speak to the needs of the unions or their members, did not address in a powerful way how progressive policies help not only the nation as a whole, but the working class in particular. Trump stepped into the void, riled up union membership, and built up a level of support most Republican candidates and presidents could never have imagined.
Trump’s Damage to Unions
Unfortunately, despite the promises and the rallies, Trump has no intention of helping union members or anyone else in the working class. Even relative to other politicians, he has lied brazenly, and continues to do so. Union leaders continue to support him to protect themselves, as admitting their error would be devastating to their future leadership prospects. But neither Trump’s cabinet nominees nor his policies are good for organized labor or for the country.
Trump’s initial nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, held a long track record of working against the interest of employees in his own company, with wage and hour disputes literally robbing employees of pay they had earned. The replacement nominee and now Secretary, Alexander Acosta, both refused to support basic concepts of worker rights in his confirmation hearing and supports a Trump agenda to roll back workplace safety rules and cut workplace training programs designed to help workers get ahead in the workplace. The agenda includes decreased enforcement of oversight obligations that keep companies honest and require them to pay overtime properly and protect employees from workplace dangers. The agenda of deregulation is not about giving workers freedom to do their jobs, but rather giving company owners the right to directly hurt employees. Union leaders, by buying into the messaging that Trump so dishonestly applies, are helping him hurt blue collar workers to better line the pockets of company and union leadership.
Aiming Higher in the Destruction of Unions
Of course, the forces of deregulation will take time to destroy union members, and President Trump has never been known for his patience. He is also looking to the National Labor Relations Board, the group that oversees labor disputes in the United States. Republicans have for years prevented two seats on the board from being filled. As a result, much like Justice Gorsuch filling a stolen Supreme Court seat, Trump’s nominees will be in position to fill seats that should have long since been occupied. And to do so, he is looking at pro-management nominees with reputations for taking down unions at every turn.
The sheer audacity of Trump’s actions here is unnerving enough; he is working to establish the most anti-union NLRB in recent memory, creating oversight for unions that stands to destroy workers’ rights in exchange for higher profits for the gilded class. But the hypocrisy of it all, praising workers and claiming to be a pro-working class president while undercutting them in every way imaginable, should stun even the most cynical among us, regardless of party affiliation. Trump’s policies stand to further weaken a middle class that shrinks a little every year, pushing them past the point of no return.
Building the Resistance
When Republicans who initially opposed Trump started joining his bandwagon during the campaign, it was disheartening but not unexpected. Political opportunism occurs every election cycle, and those who wanted either a seat at the table or more power in their congressional seats could be expected to pile on. More disturbing is the continued support from organized labor for a president who works actively to hurt the membership. These people are admittedly stuck in a difficult position, as Trump says many of the right things from the perspective of the union membership. Economic growth and job creation are good things, and they do not want to look like they are opposed to them. But the Trump administration, for all its rhetoric about working class heroes, remains staunchly opposed to policies that will actually help the working class, choosing instead to take money, benefits, and power away from employees to further boost billionaires’ bank accounts. The time to call out this duplicitous man has long passed.
Union leaders, if they care at all about representing their members, must resist Trump’s lies and fight alongside those who see through them. Trump seeks to help America’s wealthiest few at the expense of the needs of the many. We cannot let him succeed.