[Marxism] Labor Leaders’ Cheap Deal With Trump

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 7 08:54:00 MST 2017

NY Times Op-Ed, FEB. 7, 2017
Labor Leaders’ Cheap Deal With Trump

For progressives, Donald J. Trump’s presidency so far has been a little 
like standing in front of one of those tennis ball machines — and 
getting hit in the face over and over again. Yet looking back, the blow 
that still has me most off-kilter didn’t come from the new president 
himself. It came two weeks ago, when several smiling union leaders 
strolled out of the White House and up to a bank of waiting cameras and 
declared their firm allegiance to President Trump.

Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, 
reported that Mr. Trump had taken the delegation on a tour of the Oval 
Office and displayed a level of respect that was “nothing short of 
incredible.” Mr. McGarvey pledged to work hand in glove with the new 
administration on energy, trade and infrastructure, while one of the 
other union leaders described the Inaugural Address as “a great moment 
for working men and women.” When Mr. Trump issued executive orders to 
smooth the way for construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access 
pipelines, the same leaders rejoiced.

A new administration can always count on many organizations to issue pro 
forma statements expressing a nonpartisan willingness to work with the 
new leader. Let’s be clear: This was not that. This was a new alliance. 
As Terry O’Sullivan, head of Laborers’ International Union of North 
America, put it on MSNBC: “The president’s a builder. We’re builders.”

But the edifice that Mr. Trump is building is rigged to collapse on the 
very people these unions are supposed to defend. His cuts to regulations 
will make them less safe on the job, and he may well wage war against 
the National Labor Relations Board, an agency that recently ruled that 
Mr. Trump violated the rights of the workers in his Las Vegas hotel to 
unionize and bargain collectively. His proposed cuts to corporate taxes 
will eviscerate the public services on which they depend, not to mention 
public sector union jobs. He supports “right to work” legislation that 
poses an existential threat to unions. His pick for labor secretary, the 
fast-food magnate Andrew Puzder, has a long record of failing to pay his 
workers properly, and he has praised the idea of replacing humans with 

Indeed, the more cleareyed unions are openly questioning whether their 
organizations will survive this administration. The Labor Network for 
Sustainability, in a report, warns this could be “an ‘extinction-level 
event’ for organized labor.”

All this is an awful lot of ground to lose in exchange for mostly 
temporary jobs repairing highways and building oil pipelines.

And it’s worth taking a closer look at the implications of those 
pipelines, along with the rest of Mr. Trump’s climate-change denying 
agenda. A warming world is a catastrophe for the middle and working 
classes, even more than for the rich, who have the economic cushions to 
navigate most crises. It’s working and precariously unemployed people 
who tend to live in homes that are most vulnerable to extreme weather 
(as we saw during Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy) and whose 
savings, if they have any, can be entirely wiped out by a disaster.

It’s natural to ask: In times of insecurity, why shouldn’t unions worry 
more about jobs than about the environment? One reason is that 
responding to the urgency of the climate crisis has the potential to be 
the most powerful job creation machine since World War II. According to 
a Rockefeller Foundation-Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisers study, 
energy-efficient retrofits in United States buildings alone could create 
“more than 3.3 million cumulative job years of employment.” There are 
millions more jobs to be created in renewable energy, public transit and 
light rail.

Moreover, a great many of those jobs would be in the building trades — 
jobs for carpenters, ironworkers, welders, pipe fitters — whose union 
leaders have been so cozy with Mr. Trump. These unions could be fighting 
for sustainable jobs in a green transition as part of a broad-based 
movement. Instead, they are doing public relations for the mostly 
temporary jobs Mr. Trump is offering — those building oil pipelines, 
weapons, prisons and border walls, while expanding the highway system 
even as public transit faces drastic cuts.

The good news is that the sectors that have made common cause with Mr. 
Trump represent less than a quarter of all unionized workers. And many 
other unions see the enormous potential in a green New Deal.

“We must make the transition to a clean energy economy now in order to 
create millions of good jobs, rebuild the American middle class, and 
avert catastrophe,” George Gresham, president of 1199 S.E.I.U., the 
largest health care union in the nation, said in a statement two days 
after Mr. Trump’s pipeline executive orders.

Other unionized workers, like New York’s Taxi Workers Alliance, showed 
their opposition to Mr. Trump’s travel ban by refusing fares to and from 
Kennedy Airport during the protests.

For a long time, these different approaches were papered over under the 
banner of solidarity. But now some union heads are creating a rift by 
showing so little solidarity with their fellow union members, 
particularly immigrants and public sector workers who find themselves 
under assault by Mr. Trump.

Today labor leaders face a clear choice. They can join the diverse and 
growing movement that is confronting Mr. Trump’s agenda on every front 
and attempt to lead America’s workers to a clean and safe future.

Or they can be the fist-pumping construction crew for a Trump dystopia — 
muscle for a menace.

Naomi Klein is the author of “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. 
the Climate” and “The Shock Doctrine.”

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