[Marxism] Ralph Nader's open letter to Rich Trumka
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Mar 29 10:00:29 MDT 2012
Counterpunch March 29, 2012
Open Letter to Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO
The AFL-CIO is in a Deep, Defensive Rut
by RALPH NADER
Dear Mr. Trumka,
You have come to your leadership position of our country’s labor
federation of unions with 13 million members the hard way.
Starting by working in the coal mines, then becoming a lawyer,
heading the United Mine Workers, then becoming the
Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO before assuming your present
position in 2009, who can pull rank on you in the formal labor
Yet, the AFL-CIO’s public leadership in three major areas has been
far less effective than one would expect. I am referring to your
less than assertive response to President Obama: 1) turning his
back on raising the federal minimum wage; 2) failing to advance
his card check promise to you in 2008; and 3) dropping the ball on
backing long-overdue safety and health responsibilities of the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
I say this with the awareness of your group’s public stands in
favor of these three crucial matters to working families. But as
you well know, there is a very marked difference between being
on-the-record, as the AFL-CIO is, and being on-the-daily ramparts
pushing these issues, as your organization is not.
Even just making a statement, however, took a back seat in your
March 13, 2012 endorsement of Barack Obama for a second term as
president. In what ways has Mr. Obama “moved aggressively,” as you
declared, “to protect workers rights, pay, health and safety on
He has neither championed nor pressed Congress, when the Democrats
were in control in 2009-2010, to give you card check which you
have long-said was needed to reverse the serious decline and
expand the ranks of organized labor by millions of workers (you
told me this in 2004).
Second, Mr. Obama appointed an excellent head of OSHA and then
betrayed OSHA – an agency that has estimated 58,000
workplace-related American deaths a year from disease and trauma!
That is over 1000 people a week, every week, on the average.
Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor and the head of
OSHA, cannot get White House approval for issuing long-overdue
standards or strengthening weak and outdated standards such as the
woefully inadequate silica rule, to save American lives not
threatened by terrorists, but by corporate negligence or worse.
Why have you not exposed this reality in public? Has Mr. Obama,
whom you have socialized with at White House viewings of the Super
Bowl, ever invited you to come across Lafayette Square to discuss
this serious ongoing, preventable tragedy?
Had he taken worker concerns seriously, he might have asked you
why the AFL-CIO for many years, has retained at its large national
headquarters so few full-time advocates on occupational health and
safety? And you in turn might have asked him why his politicos are
blocking Dr. Michaels and why he is content in having only $550
million for OSHA’s annual budget while the U.S. spent $675 million
in 2011 paying corporate contractors to guard the overbuilt U.S.
Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. Are these the Obama “values” you
extolled in your endorsement statement?
More dismaying is your touting Mr. Obama for aggressively
protecting workers’ pay. By pushing for more NAFTA type
“pull-down” trade agreements through Congress, and not moving to
revise NAFTA as he promised in his 2008 presidential campaigns, he
is undermining both workers’ pay and jobs. By totally abandoning
his pledge made to over 30 million workers in 2008 that he would
press for a $9.50/hour federal minimum wage by 2011, he left them
defenseless with more debt and fewer necessities of life.
The AFL-CIO wants at the least to catch up to 1968 with an
inflation-adjusted $10/hour minimum wage law. Where is the visible
muscular campaign for such legislation? Keeping up with inflation
for the federal minimum wage is historically supported by 70
percent of the people. That includes many Republicans and even
Rick Santorum and, until his latest flip-flop, Mitt Romney. A $10
minimum wage, after years of windfall price increases and
executive compensation windfalls at labor’s expense, would
annually pump tens of billions of dollars into greater consumer
demand by low-income families in this recessionary economy.
What is the AFL-CIO waiting for? Hundreds of non-profit
organizations will follow your lead. Talk is not enough. Resources
and muscular lobbying are required along with far more relevant
and tough public advertisements than your members are seeing and
paying for on TV these days. Enough, already, of the general
feel-good mood spots on TV.
As someone who in earlier days had been a dig-in-your-heels labor
negotiator in fights with management, what did you receive for
millions of American workers in your early, blanket endorsement of
Mr. Obama? No wonder he can get away with giving the trade union
movement and unorganized workers the back of his hand. You have
unnecessarily allowed him to believe that you have nowhere to go.
This is another way of saying that the Republicans, by being worse
than the bad Democrats, are holding the American labor movement
hostage to the corporatist Democratic Party.
The AFL-CIO is in a deep, defensive rut when in these tough times
it should be in an aroused, innovative state of high alert and
aggressive action. Workers in the 1930s’ Depression were in worse
shape than workers today, yet organized labor was more militant.
People inside and outside the AFL-CIO know the problems. They are:
complacent bureaucratic rigidity, fractious relations between
member unions over how supine they need to be to Obama and the
Democrats (with their costly wars), the lack of union democracy
and competitive elections both within member unions and at the
AFL-CIO plus, except for a few unions like the California Nurses
Association, a distinct lack of sustained fervor and money for
You know all this only too well. Yet, as a 14th Century Chinese
philosopher once said, “to know and not to do is not to know.”
Unless you shake the AFL-CIO up and reorder its priorities against
the corporate state, expect another four years of an Obamabush
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