[Marxism] Ralph Nader's open letter to Rich Trumka

Louis Proyect 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

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 
the job?”

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standards or strengthening weak and outdated standards such as the 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 
organizing drives.

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 


Ralph Nader

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