Trump Shrewdly Exploits the Labor Movement Divide

President Donald Trump poses with labor leaders on January 23, 2017 in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC.Getty Images

New Orleans   Depending on what papers you read, you might have seen a picture of President Trump meeting with business executives or on the other hand a picture of him meeting with union leaders. All of the pictures featured grinning, older white men in nice suits, so please read the captions carefully so you know who you looking at, even if you can’t see much difference in what they are saying.

Trump’s big play yesterday was removing the United States as a signatory to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with Japan, Canada, and a number of other countries. This has been a contentious issue for labor and the left. The AFL-CIO and particularly legacy manufacturing unions like the UAW and Steelworkers have long opposed the TPP and similar trade deals as job killers for workers and unfair dumping grounds for cheaper products. It was a signature platform promise of Senator Bernie Sanders as well. Interviewing Larry Cohen, former president of the Communication Workers on the radio, he maintained that his participation in Sanders’ campaign and his union’s maverick endorsement of Sanders over Hillary Clinton was largely prompted by Sanders’ opposition to TPP.

The labor leaders in the White House yesterday were giddy after their meeting with Trump. One, on exiting, described the meeting as the best he had ever had in his career with the union. Reports of the meeting, including glowing remarks about Trump from the Teamsters’ Hoffa and the Carpenters’ McCarron, leave little doubt that this was a meeting that focused on something that Trump knows something about and where, as a New York City based builder, he has long experience with unions, and that is construction. Discussions about infrastructure expenditures for constructing pipelines, bridges, airports, highways, and other big ticket items are the bread-and-butter of the building trades’ councils and their member unions, meaning happy members paying working dues. The membership of the trades, like their leadership, are still, even in the 21st century, mainly white and mainly men, so this is right in the Trump wheelhouse. In the age of Trump, we may read a lot about new right-to-work legislation, but we’re not hearing a peep about repealing Davis-Bacon, which is the building trades’ life-support system on higher, prevailing wages for construction.

Manufacturing unions have been bleeding from the downsizing of automation, trade, and disinvestment, but that doesn’t change the fact that building trades unions are the smallest part of the shrinking labor movement and often at odds with both the manufacturing unions as well as the service unions that have become the major driving force of the labor movement. The divide between service-sector unions in healthcare, public service, education, retail, and elsewhere and the construction unions is huge, and no matter how masked by claims of ongoing solidarity, this distinction and the lingering political and cultural separations were at the heart of the division into competing labor federations. In service unions the membership and many of the unions are led by women, immigrants, and the non-white, and diversity of all kinds is their watchword. The building trades’ unions impulse is to protect what they have for their existing members so that there are fewer workers sitting on the bench at their hiring halls, and many times they see their charge as keeping other workers out of their industries. The workers outside the hall are largely irrelevant to them, if they can hold on to their work, while service workers have to grow or be overwhelmed by the unorganized, and construction workers try to build a fort with a moat around them.

Trump may not have formally declared war on all unions or all of labor, but he’s been around the blocks of Manhattan, and he knows full well how to divide the already sagging house of labor. With the enthusiasm of the construction unions, we’re about to watch him do so.


Building a “Full Service Movement”

New Orleans   The afterglow of the giant women’s marches around the country – and the world – has been warm and illuminating. Obviously the intriguing question is whether or not this is going to be a wonderful opening act or the beginning of long run engagement that could mold the future?

Certainly all sides are moving. Numerous sponsoring groups made the best of the opportunity to engage supporters and activists for the future. Planned Parenthood reportedly trained 2000 after the march to fight to protect women’s healthcare. Many other sponsoring groups are no doubt convening meetings to discuss next steps. Given that the organizers original steps were organizing via Facebook and the internet, undoubtedly there are scores of established and putative organizations and leaders volunteering to lead to the future. From his perch near the New York Times masthead, Charles Blow almost giddily labels the march an “uprising.” Conservative pundits at the Wall Street Journal argue that the centrifugal force of so many competing issues under the big tent of the march will blow the fledgling movement apart, while others argued that diversity and inclusiveness has to be the strength of the movement. In a potential Achilles heel for organizers, women in majority-black cities like New Orleans, Atlanta, and elsewhere pointedly noted the very low participation of black women, other African-Americans, and minorities in general.

Todd Gitlin, the frequently quoted Columbia University professor and former head of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) more than 50 years ago, noted that where marches had had significant historical impact they were the product of deep organizational efforts that both preceded and followed the marches. To succeed, he cautioned in building something sustainable requires a “full service movement.” I find that constructive and helpful advice worth some thought and discussion.

Often what moves America forward from these movement events is the pure outpouring of energy and excitement that emanates from such a march. My daughter is a veteran organizer with a decade of work under her belt and her reaction to having been a participant in the Women’s March on Washington with her friends was a straightforward, unambiguous message on our family’s WhatsApp, saying: “Wow, Wow, Wow, it was so special!”

Such raw energy could generate the power to move whole countries. The problem is that often existing organizations see their role as not clearing the paths forward for it to move, but trying to bottle the energy like a magic potion to be used for their own purposes. A full-service movement has to be able to support existing infrastructure, which means long standing organizations and their issues, so that it can prove it can deliver on the cares of its coalition, but also has to rise to its own level – with their help – exceeding what others might have previously thought impossible and unachievable.

The other challenge in allowing a movement to grow in these times is that it cannot thrive only in resistance, no matter the fact that the opportunity and need will be constant. To be sustainable, such a movement has to be create and demand, not simply resist and obstruct.


Steadfast Marchers

New Orleans Women’s March

New Orleans    Organizers of the sister march in New Orleans said that 10,000 people were in attendance. The crowd was large enough that people were still leaving Washington Square on Elysian Fields Avenue at the same time they were arriving in Duncan Plaza, a distance of almost two miles.

Of course New Orleans was small potatoes next to the Women’s March on Washington where more than 500,000 gathered, infuriating President Trump since the number of celebrants for his inauguration was less than many other presidents as well as being fewer than those protesting. Other cities also reported huge crowds not only in New York, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago, but also Austin, Atlanta, and points near and far joined by other marches around the world. We’re talking millions now.

I’ve been on hundreds of marches. This one was different. This march was not simply a protest of Trump. It was an affirmation of women. It was women finding and raising their voices. The zany, pointed power of the individual posters created by women were almost as inspiring as the raw numbers themselves. From the “nasty women” t-shirts to the cat’s ears on the top of bright pink knit caps to the occasional sashes that harkened back to the days of the suffragettes, this was a march like none other.

President Trump reacted on Twitter of course, but his response continued to indicate that he was still looking backward, rather than forward. Essentially, he tweeted a question about where all of these women were during the election, saying, “Why didn’t these people vote?” He seems not to fully comprehend that the election is over and that he’s president, but that in America, people don’t only have a right to speak, act, and protest during an election. As the marchers demonstrated, these are rights we have every day. He also misses the fact that will be recognized by most professional politicians that these marchers were committing to continue to vote as well for their beliefs and against those who stand against them.

My favorite quote was from one of the primary organizers of the women’s march when she stated that she came from a family of “steadfast marchers.” Steadfast is such an archaic word that you really don’t hear it that much, though I read it more than once in connection with the march. Steadfast is a word with power, indicating for hundreds of years that we will “stand fast.”

Steadfast marchers were a message to President Trump that we will stand fast in the future for our rights, our beliefs, and our dreams for America. We will be steadfast in opposing his actions as president which threaten our commitments to an America for all. We will vote with our feet, and if this march were any indication, we will put our bodies on the line with our beliefs whenever they are challenged.


Watchwords for Trump Time

Part of the New Orleans March on Friday, Jan 20th, 2017

New Orleans   I read that the former spokesperson for the Clinton campaign and communications whiz for President Obama had left Washington during the Inauguration for New Orleans, essentially embracing the its popular slogan of being “the city that care forgot.” That was not quite true this time since 1700 people marched in the afternoon on Inauguration Day in protest and many more are expected for the Women’s March in this city, as they are in cities around the country.

Interviewing Becky Bond, a former senior adviser to the Sanders’ campaign and co-author of the new book, Rules for Revolutionaries, on my weekly radio show, in talking about the hollowness of the Democratic Party, she noted the paradoxical point that the Republican candidate, meaning President Trump, had “run to the left of the Democratic nominee on economic issues.” The point struck like a hammer, it was so true.

And, listen to this from Trump’s hardline and brief inaugural address:

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share the wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs, and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all around our land.”

I have trouble disagreeing with him. He’s right, even repeating the old Huey Long populist slogan, “share the wealth.”

But when he says,

We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action constantly complaining but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.

I have trouble not believing that this is all talk, because so far his actions still look the opposite of the words that framed whatever his words might lure us to believe.

Indeed we’ll see. Perhaps at our peril.

But, finally, I noted another quote in the papers commemorating the inaugural from the major British funder of the Brexit campaign, and at $11 million, the single largest political donor in British history, Arron Banks. He claimed that the advice he has given Trump when they met was simple: “Never apologize, facts are just white noise, emotions rule.”

Given the electoral campaign and the run up to this new presidency, it sounds frighteningly true.


Corporations May be Buying Trump Late, but They’re Buying Big

protests outside Union Station in DC this morning

New Orleans   Pinch yourself and snap out of it. The day has finally come no matter how much you lived in dread and denial. By noon, Donald J. Trump will be President, and Barack Obama will be out on the street like the rest of us. There’s no place to hide, the disruption has begun.

It may not be business as usual, but believe me, it’s going to be big business all the time. Of course it starts with Trump landing with his entourage in Washington, DC and hurrying off to party, of course he does so at his own new 236-room luxury hotel that many have noted will be a constant ethical millstone around his neck. Not that he will notice or particularly care, mind you, since he will just bluster and bluff over any niggling from the media or ethics lawyers.

Big business and their minions know how to make a deal with Trump. They may have held their nose up in the air during the campaign, and many withheld their contributions including brand name mainstays that usually funded the Republican conventions in the past for example. In a transactional town with a transactional Trump, they got with the program quickly. For the Inauguration, businesses, along with other favor seekers, ponied up $90 million, more than double the amount tallied for Obama’s last inaugural. If you didn’t buy early, you can always buy a piece of Trump later. For example for $500,000, they would get to attend a special access, candlelight dinner with Trump and his wife.

“You get what you pay for” is going to be the new motto for America now and will soon replace “in God we trust” on the dollar bill.

Of course every verse is the same as his first. Trump claimed that the concert in front of the Lincoln Statue was unique, while the papers had to point out that it was a common location. Trump claims the crowds coming in are going to be the largest ever, while estimates put the expected numbers in the medium range. In fact, the Women’s March on Washington the following day has now swollen to an estimated 400,000, double the original numbers, and of course not counting the likely millions that will be stepping in their own cities and states around the country. A road report I received from one of the first stops on the New Jersey Turnpike before inaugural day, said it was jam packed with young people already in route to DC.

We need to brace ourselves. As Trump has proven repeatedly to date, this is going to be a ready-or-not kind of affair. In a last minute move, fifty Obama top appointees, including an interim Secretary of State, were approved since only two Trump appointees have made muster through Congress. Of 660 executive appointments being tracked by an independent nonprofit, Trump has named only 29.

Here comes our future. He can’t be fired, and we have to focus on how to survive. Business has already learned how to buy-in, while the rest of us are hoping for a discount or a layaway.


Please enjoy Easy Target by John Mellencamp.

Thanks to KABF.


Resistance Manual is an Interesting Tool

New Orleans    The other day activists associated with Stay Woke, We Are the Protestors, Campaign Zero, and much of the Black Lives Matter movement among other groups, released something that they called the Resistance Manual. The manual was described in the Huffington Post as “an open-source platform which houses resources people can use to ‘resist the impact of a Trump presidency and to continue to make progress in our communities.’” Obviously, it’s a work-in-progress, but an innovative idea that with support could become a very useful organizing tool.

When I opened the site, I saw a clean page with a list of issues in the main frame and a sidebar of links to other organizations and information. Once I clicked on one of the issue areas, like voting rights for example which I hit first, I did a double-take. I thought I had somehow klutzed around and opened Wikipedia instead. Then I realized that the manual is designed almost exactly on a wiki-template. There are clear sections under each main topic:

1 Recent Updates
2 Trump/GOP Strategy
3 Projected Impact
4 Vulnerabilities in Their Strategy
5 How You Can Resist

In voting rights, there were recommendations of other organizations that you could work with including Project Vote and the League of Women Voters. The recent update was red hot and mentioned a Brennan Center report just released. The ways you could resist were somewhat old school and involved calling to oppose Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions nomination as US Attorney General or to call your local state legislators to oppose the introduction of new restricts to voting rights.

The other issues listed were what most would expect: immigration, Obamacare, policing, incarceration, tax cuts on the wealthy, housing, women’s rights, LGBT, education, climate, Muslim registry, and consumer protection. There is also a way to link to state and local activities, which has potential as well.

This is a work-in-progress though and needs help to be effective. When I checked housing-and-infrastructure for example, the sections on “vulnerabilities” and “how you can resist” were blank and waiting for suggestions. When I hit consumer-and-financial protections, there seemed to be subject matter confusion between protecting minimum wage, welfare, and food stamp benefits and saving the Consumer Finance & Protection Bureau and Dodd-Frank, which probably should have been two issue areas. When they recommend the League of Women Voters and calling your legislators, no one could say this is an inflammatory or radical manual, and I’m sure there were arguments, given the history of the sponsors, on whether or not this was even resistance.

But, this is the strength and weakness of “open source.” We will have to see what evolves. On one page, helpfully, I could see the revision and the email source that had suggested it, as well as the fact that it was waiting to be approved. As they say, front and center, they are looking for partners and help make this a powerful tool, and something even more effective as a Resistance Manual. In their words:

If you’d like to begin organizing or become a partner in maintaining the site, reach out at This is an open-source site – feel free to add and edit as new information arises.

That’s a call to action as well to turn a promising start into a weapon. I’m hoping that many answer and respond.


Please enjoy Hungry Ghost by Hurray For the Riff Raff.

Thanks to KABF.

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