Mr. Trumka Goes to Washington


AFL-CIO blusterer in chief Dick Trumka takes both barrels from In These Times reporter and labor organizer Mike Elk over his loyalty to the Democratic Party: 

Trumka said that labor had not been "aggressive enough" in pushing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would give workers the option to unionize via card check rather than elections. The AFL-CIO even backed a primary challenge to Blanche Lincoln after she failed to back EFCA. (Although it was the only primary against a Democrat opposed to labor interests last years, and many claim labor's decision to primary her was made easy by polls that showed her already losing in a landslide in the general election.)

When Trumka's decision to oppose something actually mattered, he dropped the tough talk and did whatever the Democratic Party asked of him. Trumka threatened that the AFL-CIO might not support the final healthcare reform if it did not include a public option, an employer mandate, and was free of tax on healthcare plans. The final healthcare bill failed to do any of those three things—indeed, the healthcare bill President Obama signed into law in early 2010 hurt union members whose benefits would be taxed under the plan.

Trumka not only supported the bill, but threatened Democrat lawmakers on the left who were on the fence about supporting the bill.  

I interviewed Trumka at the October 2 2010 One Nation Coming Together Rally and asked him about whether he would criticize the Democratic senators who blocked a vote on ending those tax cuts in his speech. He said: "No I won't, today is about America coming together. This is not a day for a politics." Later in his speech, Trumka would indeed talk politics, but only by urging rally participants to get out and vote for Democrats without denouncing any of their bad policies.

Similarly, AFL-CIO was mute in criticizing CEOs close to the president who continued to export jobs overseas. After a speech at the National Press Club, I asked Trumka if he was upset with Obama for meeting with some of the leading job exporters in the United States and not denouncing them. Trumka responded: "We aren't going to denounce the president in public for meeting with the CEOs. The president doesn't communicate well with me in the press. I talk in private with the president about these matters."

As Elk points out, the AFL-CIO has always been Janus-faced in its support for Democrats, dating back to George Meany in the 1960s. But assuming the peons could replace Trumka with someone who wasn't Beltway baptized, then what? Would the AFL-CIO oppose electable Democrats and risk getting more Scott Walkers? Doubtful.