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Brothers and Sisters, It’s Time to Fight

By Kevin Norton - Labor Notes, February 15, 2017

The speed of events since Trump’s inauguration has made my head spin. The administration’s absolute onslaught against women, environmentalists, Muslims, immigrants, and the government itself began on day one. So I was a little shocked to see some of the building trades union leadership meet so happily with our nation’s first orange president.

“We have a common bond with the president,” Building Trades President Sean McGarvey said. “We come from the same industry. He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.” McGarvey also commented that President Obama had never met with the trades.

Some enthusiastic Trump supporters have lit up my Facebook page with stories about how he is going to “Make America Great Again.” One wrote, “I was told Trump was anti-union... Being an informed voter, I knew it was hogwash... here’s the proof.” He left a link to an article about the new president’s meeting with the union leaders.


We need to have an honest dialogue about Trump. I was brought up to respect women and treat people as you would like to be treated. Work hard, give eight hours’ work for eight hours’ pay.

Trump has never worked on a construction site. He’s a billionaire playboy, not a union brother. He has made his fortune in part by not paying hardworking contractors after the job was finished. He has always preyed on people who don’t have the resources to fight back.

I’ve been involved in my union ever since I was fired for participating in an organizing drive in Boston in 1988. My dad and brother are in the trades too. Most of my closest friends are involved in the labor movement.

In the many local, state, and federal campaigns I’ve been involved in, our unions have always worked with coalition partners—environmentalists, LGBTQ organizations, worker centers, community organizations, civil rights organizations, and even business groups when we had a common goal.

When you build things for a living, you find yourself in coalition with developers and energy companies. This makes some of our environmental friends uncomfortable—just like our friendship with environmentalists makes some of our business allies uncomfortable. But given the state of the labor movement, we need friends, even friends we sometimes disagree with.

So I understand the need to work across party lines and with businesses to keep the brothers and sisters of the trades working. What troubles me is the attitude that “we can work with this guy.”


This guy who builds with non-union crews wherever he can, who stiffs union contractors, who fights workers organizing at his hotels, and who supports right-to-work legislation which will kill some unions and hobble the ones that are left. This anti-immigrant guy who hired undocumented workers for his projects and has been sued for stiffing them on their pay.

If he steals from contractors, why wouldn’t he screw you?

There is no benefit to working with someone who has already pledged to destroy you. Trump’s administration and the Republican Congress seem intent on killing the union movement and damn near every bit of progress that has been made in the last 60 years. He nominated Betsy DeVos, a horrendous anti-teacher advocate, to run the Department of Education. He nominated the anti-union CEO of Carl’s Jr. to run the Department of Labor.

My dad taught me, “When someone says they are going to punch you, believe them—don’t wait for them to do it.” The guy won’t even commit to support the prevailing wage rate or project labor agreements—at a meeting where he is asking unions to fund his infrastructure projects with our pension money.


Trump supporters, you have a role to play in keeping him honest. Send him a letter (or a Tweet) about how important your union job is. Tell him that if he supports the middle class, he will support the organizations that created the middle class.

Act like the place that puts food on your table is as important as the gun that you have in your closet. You’re right to be upset when someone wants to attack the Second Amendment. I’m asking you to get just as pissed off about Trump trying to kill your union, apprenticeship, trade, and livelihood.

Ask your Republican congressman to support your freedom to support a union. Tell them they can pry your union from your cold dead hands. Then get back to me with the result.

Another thing my dad would say is, “The guy that throws the first punch wins the fight.” Brothers and sisters, it’s time to fight—in support of women, immigrants, Muslims, environmentalists, teachers, and our whole labor movement.

Len Shindel recently retired as a communications staffer in the IBEW’s international office.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

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