By Ruth Needleman - Portside, February 6, 2017
Now more than ever we need a strong united labor movement. We do not, however, have one.
The Trump administration has further deepened the wedge dividing workers by hosting the Building and Construction Trades leaders on January 25, 2017. Trump dangled before their eyes his rejection of an already dead TPP trade deal, and, even more to their liking, a commitment to build pipelines, in particular, the Dakota Access pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline.
The AFL-CIO had already disappointed members and allies nationally when Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, came out in support of the pipelines during the massive protests organized by indigenous nations at Standing Rock. Trumka pointed to jobs. But what kind of jobs and for whom and at what cost? There are jobs and then there are jobs with justice. Temporary construction jobs on the pipelines for the building trades would come at the expense of clean water, land, environmental and indigenous rights.
Nonetheless, Sean McGarvey, president of the North American Building Trades, called the pipeline jobs “an economic lifeline.” In a letter to President Trumka, dated September 14, 2016, McGarvey referred to the Standing Rock protestors as “environmental extremists,” and “professional agitators.” He denounced the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), National Nurses United (NNU), Communications Workers of America (CWA), and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) for their support of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. He claimed that building trades members “have been subjected to intimidation, vandalism, confrontation, and violence.”
His insulting tirade went on to say, “Now, rather unfortunately but I suppose not surprisingly, it seems the same outdated lowest common denominator group of so-called labor organizations has once again seen fit to demean and call for the termination of thousands of union construction jobs…I fear that this has once again hastened a very real split within the labor movement.” Further on he added, “It is both offensive and inappropriate for them as General Presidents to be so narrow minded, disregard facts, dismiss and disparage careers in the Building Trades, support lawlessness and violence at the workplace, and jump to the beckon call of outside interests and politicians at the expense of AFL-CIO members.”(sic)
Now the Trades are embracing Trump; “We have a common bond with the president,” according to McGarvey. Terry O’Sullivan of the Laborers International, a dinosaur on climate issues and environmental concerns, stressed Trump’s “remarkable courtesy and the commitment to creating hundreds of thousands of working-class jobs.” Union Participants described their meeting with Trump as “incredible.”
McGarvey’s “all-out verbal assault and slanders directed at me and other union leaders,” answered APWU president Mark Dimondstein, “will not go unanswered. First, I do not answer to Brother McGarvey, nor seek his permission for the views of the APWU,” Dimondstein stressed. “Nor will I be intimidated by him and his innuendos and insults.”
Also responding to the ideas promoted by the Trades were over 3 million women who protested against Trump and many against the pipeline. The immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ activists and Indigenous nations who stand to lose so much are the heart of the US working class and labor movement. The ever-shrinking labor unions, down again in 2016 to 10.7% of the workforce, (only 6.4% of the private sector) cannot afford to turn their back on members and allies, thereby surrendering to right-to-work, frozen minimum wages, lost access to health care, all in exchange for pipeline jobs.
The problem with these Trades misleaders is their narrow self-interested philosophy and practice of looking out only for themselves and their willingness to throw other workers under the bus. Bill Fletcher, Jr, journalist and black labor activist, compared the collaboration of these Trades’ leaders with Trump to the Vichy government’s collusion with Hitler in France during World War II. A harsh but sadly accurate comparison.