Positions of U.S. Trade Unions
One of the biggest problems facing the American working class and people is that the voice of the working class is effectively silenced. Not only are relatively few workers unionized — the rate of unionization has slipped from 20 per cent in 1983 to 11 per cent today — but the union centrals generally toe the line of the old politics of siding with one faction of the U.S. ruling class in its battle for power, which leaves the American working class divided. In this vein, the position of U.S. unions and the international unions based in the U.S. is to support the crisis-ridden U.S. democracy by saying that Trump’s election represents the voice of the American people. Certain unions suggest that through the presidential election the people were given a chance to decide the direction of the country. They declare that this is what U.S. democracy is all about, to arrive at a verdict of the people. Within this, most admit that their union membership was deeply divided, claiming the division is a “left-right” ideological divide. They ignore the results which show that a large plurality of workers did not vote for either Clinton or Trump preferring instead not to participate in an election where the candidates of the Republicans and Democrats were generally considered “the two most unwanted.”
Some unions have declared that the election results show that the economic and political system is broken, and are an indictment of the same old “politics as usual,” yet they continue to yearn for “business as usual.” An expression of this sentiment is the statement of the national organization representing a collective of unions, the AFL-CIO. Its President Richard Trumka says in a statement:
“Donald Trump has been elected president. America is a democratic nation, and the voters have spoken. The AFL-CIO accepts the outcome of this election and offers our congratulations to President-Elect Trump. More than anything, this election is an indictment of politics as usual.”
According to the AFL-CIO, the people have spoken, yet the national vote count shows Clinton ahead by over 2 million votes. Trump’s victory, it affirms, is largely due to angry workers facing the phenomena of growth without manufacturing, poor job creation, and U.S. jobs leaving the U.S., especially in what it calls the “rustbelt battlegrounds.” It asserts the elites turned their backs on the workers, especially with the global trade agreements sending jobs overseas. This tipped the Electoral College vote in favour of Trump with victories in the heavily industrialized states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and even Michigan, all states the Democrats recently have won. The AFL-CIO does not explain or attempt to analyze how changing one elite oligarch for another elite oligarch could possibly favour the working class. It does not analyze why “angry workers” should vote for a virulently anti-worker oligarch such as Clinton, who is a promoter of sweatshops in Haiti, or Trump who personally has a vicious record of attacking his own hotel and casino workers.
The union central avoids any serious discussion of why the working people are not prepared to defend themselves in the face of the imperialist election or how to go forward in a manner that favours the interests of the workers and does not create illusions that Trump will do so. What role have the organized unions played in leaving the working class without an outlook that can provide it with a solid base from which to engage imperialist democracy and its electoral system in battle in good conscience and with actions with analysis?
Some union leaders look for continuity in their role within civil society even though Trump severely threatens them in practice at his hotels and casinos and in his speeches, which are laced with police state rhetoric.
Most U.S. union leaders heavily favoured Clinton and widely campaigned amongst their membership to vote for her. Canadian union members of international unions with headquarters in the U.S. even received form letters from the U.S. leaders exhorting them to vote for Clinton and asking them to challenge the groundswell of anti-Clinton sentiment from their own membership.
The unions recognized that many workers were divided when it came to voting, but failed to analyze that dividing the working class on a sectarian basis based on one or another of the oligarchic parties is precisely a main role of the outmoded institutions which do not empower the people. The sectarian split along party lines leaves the working class vulnerable to siding with this or that so-called right-wing and left-wing faction of the financial oligarchy up to participating in a reactionary civil war, which is seriously brewing in the United States. Embroiling the working class in the inter-monopoly and inter-imperialist politics of the oligopolies and financial oligarchy greatly weakens the working class movement as it obscures the underlying division in the U.S. between social classes, especially the class struggle between the working class and those who own and control social wealth and property such as the representatives of the oligopolies such as Trump and Clinton.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) refers to a split between its leaders and some who followed them in voting for Clinton and other members who voted for Trump.
“This was a long, and at times, divisive, election, but as brothers and sisters in the IBEW, there remains much more that unites us than divides us, and it’s more important now than ever that we work together over the coming days, months and years,” a statement says.
But how to accomplish such unity and for what aim is not broached. Left unsaid is the need for independent politics of the working class organized of, for and by the workers themselves with their own worker politicians.
Instead, the IBEW says: “Last Tuesday revealed a deep anxiety among the electorate over a declining middle class, stagnant wages and the sense that our political system is rigged in favor of the top 1 percent.”
A working class conscious of its independent politics would never leap from the difficulties it faces into the arms of the likes of Trump. Instead of arriving at warranted conclusions of the need to strengthen the organized front of the working class, the IBEW disgraces itself with words of conciliation which claim “common ground” between the workers and Trump.
“To the extent that President-Elect Trump is serious about working toward growing the middle class and providing real opportunities for working Americans, we’re willing to work with him. On issues like trade, infrastructure, jobs and outsourcing, there can be common ground between us, and I’m committed to finding it,” says IBEW President Lonnie R. Stephenson.
These issues are precisely those where Trump and his new cabinet, such as Wilbur Ross, appointed as Secretary of Commerce, have shown no common ground whatsoever with the working class. Why not conclude the obvious based on the reality that confronts the polity and deliberate on how workers will deal with that?
The effort of certain U.S. union leaders is now to find a niche where they can go back to conducting “business as usual” despite the elections and Trump’s cabinet appointments showing that the U.S.election has plunged the U.S.-dominated imperialist system of states and the entire world into a situation where “business as usual” is no more.
The world exists as it presents itself, yet certain union leaders ostensibly representing the interests of the working class appear to be looking for some “common ground” with the Trump regime. They imagine some common ground will emerge from Trump’s pledge that he will change the situation facing the angry workers of the heavily industrialized states. The union leaders insist that Trump follow up on his promises and the unions must show an ability to negotiate with the people with whom they disagree. An example is the statement of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW). The IAMAW puts on a brave face and says:
“As a labor union, we deal with those whom we disagree with every day at the bargaining table. We try to find common ground. That’s exactly what we intend to do in this new reality.”
The common ground is said to be “jobs” and it is claimed that this is Trump’s agenda as well. The unions seek common ground with Trump over “things” such as jobs but say they differ over “core values,” which they will not compromise. Presumably jobs and core values are unrelated. Totally ignored is the fact that Trump’s aim and that of the workers are diametrically opposed to one another. For Trump, jobs are things not workers with rights and class interests in contradiction with those who own and control social property.
Here, many U.S. union leaders say they face a dilemma and must make use of their negotiating ability to find common ground between jobs and their “core values,” on which they will never compromise. In this dilemma, “jobs” and their creation are presented as things, not relations people enter into to make a living and from which the oligarchs can seize the added-value workers produce. Because jobs are considered things and not relations amongst people, in particular between employees and employers, the union leaders present these things without concrete core values based on the rights of the working class and its wish for equilibrium in class relations. Jobs are considered “just jobs” without ideology, without politics of any kind, without even class struggle in defence of rights, without the reality that under imperialism, jobs exist within an antagonistic dialectical social relation between the working class and those who own and control social wealth such as Trump and Clinton. Within the difficult social relation, the working class fights for equilibrium that at least recognizes its rights and prepares itself for an opening towards building the new outside the social relation.
The direction Trump — or Clinton for that matter — takes the economy and whom it serves, according to many union leaders, is not germane to the relations between them and the Trump presidency as long as jobs are created, and their “core values” are respected at least generally in words if not in deeds in the hurly burly world of class struggle. The core values remain disconnected from reality and without historical context within the imperialist system of states and certainly not connected with the concrete conditions of working class struggles in defence of their rights and the rights of all.
Some union leaders say they recognize the split between themselves, who campaigned and voted for Clinton along with some members, and other members who voted for Trump. Again, no heed seems to be paid to those who did not vote at all and why people vote the way they do or do not vote. The vote is presented as occurring without historical context and without consideration of the many people who participated in actions with analysis to oppose the imperialist elections and their fraudulent electoral process as best they could and are searching for an alternative.
The results of the election show that the very large majority directly voting against Trump together with those not voting number more than 170 million. What this majority holds in common is that its decision to oppose Trump or oppose the entire imperialist electoral process does not count in the U.S. political system. They are disenfranchised from the result, which is a Trump presidency with all the power that entails. The working people are disempowered locally, regionally and nationally.
The vote does not signal a common ground between the working people and the financial oligarchy. If anything it signals a repudiation of an imperialist electoral process that produced such unwanted pro-war, racist candidates. Why not conclude that and deliberate on how workers are to organize themselves as a powerful front capable of defending their rights with actions with analysis, and which constantly builds workers’ consciousness of themselves and their unity in the struggle for a new pro-social direction for the economy and society.