Donald Trump and the U.S. Labor Movement
Weeks ago, when Donald Trump announced that he was visiting the Mexican-U.S. border at the invitation of the border workers union, the AFL-CIO intervened and Trump was uninvited.
To date we have been unable to find further actions or statements by the AFL-CIO in response to Trump’s many ultra-reactionary pronouncements, which the media has consistently been highlighting. These include his advocating the rapid deportation of 12 million “illegals”; his characterization of them as criminals, rapists and drug peddlers; his targeting of “gangs in Ferguson” and other cities he says should be among the first to be rounded up and expelled; and his reference to women in the most obscene, insulting, degrading and demeaning manner.
If Trump were some kind of isolated voice in the wilderness, he could simply be dismissed as a crackpot. But he currently leads the polls nationally and in a number of states when measured against his Republican rivals contending for their party’s nomination for president. And he is drawing the largest crowds by far when compared to them.
So why are AFL-CIO’s leaders remaining silent in the face of Trump’s vicious attacks against our members and workers as a whole? After all, we are talking here about our sisters and brothers, who are immigrants, women, members of oppressed nationalities and communities of color. Why suffer these attacks against them without responding to and exposing Trump for what he is—a spokesperson for the most reactionary wing of the corporate class?
Take, for example, his proposal to deport 12 million undocumented workers. How would this be carried out? By employing many more border guards, the National Guard, cops, militia, the army and every other repressive force in our society. Those members of the corporate class who oppose Trump’s proposal decry its costs as unsustainable. That may be, but the overriding objection is that it could convert our nation into a police state—obliterating civil liberties and civil rights and imposing an iron heel on dissent.
Past Reactionary and Repressive Movements
The U.S. has a long history of reactionary and repressive movements, policies, laws, institutions and practices. These include the Alien and Sedition Acts; slavery; the end of Reconstruction and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan; the internment of 120,000 Japanese plus thousands of Germans and Italians during World War II; deeply rooted xenophobia; the Gerald L.K. Smith movement; McCarthyism; the Un-American Activities Committee; the boycott of Hollywood actors and writers; jailings under the Smith Act, making it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the government by force and violence; gay and lesbian bashing; the massive incarceration of Blacks and other victims of racism; renditions and torture; lengthy and often indefinite detention of political prisoners; and the escalation of police violence and murder of so many unarmed Blacks.
At the same time, there have also been centuries of heroic actions and movements to preserve, protect and expand basic democratic rights, and these are being added to on a daily basis.
But with it all, the Trump phenomenon is unique in this respect: It has a mass base among nativists and others susceptible to Trump’s mouthings, and it is actively organizing all across the country, with sufficient funding to push forward its program—whatever that program is—while making it unnecessary to raise money from other sources.
Where is the Trump Movement Going?
Some people are dismissive about Trump’s prospects. They view his movement as ephemeral, not enduring. “Give him more rope and he’ll hang himself,” they confidently predict.
Others are far more concerned. They point out that Trump’s heated rhetoric spawns hatred and potential violence. This in an already too-violent and heavily armed nation.
One thing is clear: Trump has shown a talent for pouncing on developments and citing them as verification for positions he has taken. If, for example, an undocumented worker is charged with a murder in San Francisco, Trump says, “I told you so.” As China devalues its currency, which could cost jobs for U.S. workers, Trump’s reaction is the same: “I told you so.” He gives red meat on a daily basis to his followers, most of whom swallow what he says lock, stock and barrel.
Of course, the fertile ground that has allowed Trump to get a hearing would not be there were it not for the war at home and abroad carried out by Democrats and Republicans against working people. Money desperately needed to create jobs and improve living and working conditions here at home for the working class majority have gone to promote wars for oil in the Middle East and beyond, while Wall Street—not Main Street—has been bailed out to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.
It is this worsening economic situation affecting tens of millions of people that provides the political space for demagogues like Trump to be able to scapegoat immigrants and others—when it’s the banksters and their political representatives in both major political parties who are responsible for the misery that is being inflicted, not people fleeing repression and U.S.-promoted “free trade” agreements that are devastating their home countries.
Why Labor Must Take Trump Head-On
While there might not be agreement within the labor movement over the magnitude of the threat that Trump poses, there should at least be consensus on recognizing that he is an enemy of the working class. He has, in fact, already targeted labor as an obstacle to progress, making clear that he opposes the labor-backed increase in the minimum wage, while contending that wages are currently too high and are causing companies to move to lower-paying countries, resulting in the loss of jobs at home.
Depending on Democratic and Republican politicians to stop Trump in his tracks—in the absence of massive and vocal opposition from below—is an exercise in futility. What is needed instead is building an independent movement led by labor, in partnership with our community partners, which takes a clear-cut stand exposing Trump as a spokesperson for the most reactionary wing of the ruling class.
As conditions worsen, people like Trump and his followers will exploit the situation and argue that there is no alternative to the simplistic solutions that Trump puts forward. It is essential that the labor movement provides that alternative with a program that reflects the interests of the working class majority and mobilizes to win support for its provisions. That is how to most effectively deal with the Trump phenomenon.
As spelled out in a statement by the Black Labor Collaborative titled, “A Future for Workers: A Contribution from Black Labor”: “If the labor movement does not raise its own flag and rally the vast majority of those who are seeing their dreams squeezed out of existence by global capitalism, it is quite possible that the developing anger will be channeled in dangerous directions, e.g., towards right-wing populism. Right-wing populism is an illness of anger, intolerance and irrationality that frequently emerges within capitalism during times of pressure and crisis, times such as those in which we live. As such, the forces of progress have little time to waste and, indeed, we must continue to recognize that failure is not an option.”
Money for jobs, housing, education, and public services—not for war!
End the U.S. wars in the Middle East! Out Now!
Stop the TPP in its tracks!
Labor’s Stake in the Decision on the Iran Agreement
Is the agreement over Iran‘s nuclear program recently negotiated in Vienna something that should concern the labor movement and our allies? We in the Labor Fightback Network answer the question with an emphatic YES.
What is at stake is a choice: either accepting a negotiated settlement between six countries or, if the U.S. Congress votes against the settlement in September, the potential use of military force to prevent the unlikely possibility that someday Iran could produce nuclear weapons. Simply put, it is a matter of a peaceful resolution of the dispute vs. the massive bombing and death of untold numbers of people, which the United States is continuing to threaten if Iran violates the terms of the “deal.”
The Israeli leadership under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hell-bent on defeating the agreement and is pulling out all the stops to pressure Congress to vote no. Its goal is to prevent Iran from having any kind of nuclear program. Let’s look at Israel’s situation as compared to Iran’s:
- Israel currently has an estimated 200 nuclear weapons; Iran has none.
- Israel refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; Iran signed it.
- None of Israel‘s nuclear weapons facilities has ever been subject to outside inspection; Iran has agreed to the most intrusive inspection of a nuclear program in history.
- Israel has not given up any of its nuclear weapons; Iran has agreed to deep cuts in its peaceful nuclear program.
The Hawks’ Number One Weapon: Fear-Mongering
The campaign is already well underway to frighten the American people into opposing the agreement. Such fear was the same weapon used to get Congress to go to war against Iraq. The attempt to whip up hysteria against Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction paid off when Congress—with a bipartisan vote—authorized Bush to commence the war. We all know the disastrous results that followed.
Iran has made major concessions to forestall the “military option,” which was always on the table, as President Barack Obama made clear repeatedly. It would have been within Iran’s right to reject the demands heaped upon it which violate its sovereignty and self-determination—the same rights Israel has always claimed for itself—but it chose not to, while insisting at every turn in the negotiations that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Indeed, Obama said in mid-March, 2015 that “Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has said that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon.”
Other administration officials—including Secretary of State John Kerry and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes—have previously referred to the ayatollah’s reported fatwa in the context of the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. In fact, it is a serious crime in Iran for anyone to urge that Iran build nuclear weapons.
The Iranian People Need Workers Solidarity
Sanctions constitute economic war. We have been witnessing the collective punishment of millions of innocent people. There is no question that the sanctions imposed on Iran have had devastating consequences for its people.
- Half of Iranians reported in 2013 being unable to afford adequate food or shelter for their families.
- Forty percent of Iranians currently live in poverty, 20% are unemployed.
- The country has a critical shortage of pharmaceutical products and medical devices.
In return for slashing its nuclear program, under the agreement Iran will get significant relief from the sanctions. That is why the Iranian people so jubilantly welcomed the announcement of the agreement. It is why their government agreed to it.
The fight to end all of the sanctions is going forward. As a basic exercise of solidarity, workers’ and organized labor movements throughout the world should demand the repeal of all sanctions against Iran. This is certainly in the interest of Iranian workers and those living in poverty. The UN Security Council voted unanimously to end its sanctions in 90 days; China and Russia have made it clear that they will no longer apply the sanctions against Iran if Congress turns down the agreement. Probably others of the “big six plus one” will follow suit. The U.S. government could find itself marginalized and isolated if, along with its partner Israel, it chooses to go it alone.
The Nature of the Iranian Regime Not the Issue
We have no love for repressive theocratic regimes, including the one that rules Iran. We support the struggle of democratic forces within Iran for fundamental change. That said, it is important to note that the U.S. government supports virtually every other repressive regime in the Middle East, starting with Saudi Arabia. The U.S. and these regimes are tied together through their militarization and trade policies, and they are united against the region’s anti-imperialist movements.
Regardless of the outcome of the Congressional vote on the agreement, Iran and the U.S. will continue to have other major differences. The Vienna agreement did not purport to deal with these. But at the moment, the greatest danger is that another war in the Middle East will break out over the nuclear issue. How to prevent such a war needs to be the focus of the discussion and debate in the coming months.
Why Defeat of the Agreement Would Greatly Increase the Odds of Full-Blown War
The Obama administration is claiming that a congressional rejection of the agreement would leave Iran free to develop a nuclear weapon within a year-and-a-half instead of the 10 years that the unprecedented inspection measures agreed upon under the accord would prevent. [The claim that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear weapon anytime in the future—strongly denied by Iran—is asserted without a shred of proof.] The administration also warns that without the agreement Iran would double the pace of its uranium enrichment, proceed full speed ahead with a heavy-water reactor, and install new and more efficient centrifuges—all precluded under the agreement because of concessions Iran felt bludgeoned to concede.
But where would it all lead? Without this agreement, the right-wing forces anxious for a military showdown with Iran would take its hysteria and fear campaign to a whole new level, greatly increasing the danger of all-out imminent war.
Today the U.S. corporate political class is split over what to do about Iran. What is urgently needed is the intervention of a broad, independent mass movement—hopefully with labor as a key component—mobilizing to prevent yet another war and to demand an immediate end to the sanctions. At this time, opposing a “no” vote in Congress is a necessary and immediate step in this direction. Despite all the ranting by opponents, they have nothing to offer other than escalating the tensions and laying the basis for military action. We’ve had enough of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so let’s stop the hawks here before they add Iran to their list.
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