Trump Pretends to Like Union Members—But He Really Likes the Fat Cats

By Tom Conway, the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW). Produced by the Independent Media Instutute

Donald Trump: billionaire of the people. When he ran for office, he said, “The American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.”

And how’s that working out for the American worker? Not very well, actually, not very well. When it comes down to picking sides—standing up for workers’ rights or lining the pockets of CEOs and shareholders—Trump aligned himself and his policies with the fat cats. This cost workers money and safety. The truth is that American corporations got a president who protected them and fought for them.

The proof is in Trump’slegislation, regulation and secretary selections. The most recent example is Trump’s Twitter appointment of Eugene Scalia as Secretary of Labor. This is the department specifically designated to “foster, promote, and develop the welfare of wage earners, job seekers, and retirees.” Scalia, though, has made his fortune over decades by fighting to ensure that the big guys—corporations—don’t, in fact, have to abide by regulations intended to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the little guys—wage earners, job seekers, and retirees.

That is who Trump chose to protect wage earners—a corporatist so egregious that when former President George W. Bush wanted Scalia as Labor Department solicitor, Bush had to give him a recess appointment because Republicans in the Senate balked at approving him.

This isn’t a glitch. It’s a pattern. Although Trump is fond of surrounding himself with union members and asserting that they love him, he doesn’t really like unions, especially ones that challenge him or dare to question his lies. Remember how he personally attacked Steelworker Chuck Jones who exposed Trump and Pence for claiming to save 1,100 jobs at Carrier when they really preserved only about half that many—and then only after a grant of $7 million from the taxpayers of Indiana?

A president who supported organized labor would oppose freeriders who won’t pay their fair share but still want all the benefits of union membership. A president who supported unions would not issue executive orders crippling unions representing federal workers. A president who supported unions would not delay or eliminate health and safety regulations designed to protect workers from sickness and death.

That’s not Donald Trump. He supported Mark Janus, an Illinois government employee who wanted everything for nothing. Janus was fine with collecting the higher wages that the labor union representing him secured for workers, but Janus didn’t want to contribute one red cent for that representation.

So with right-wing corporate billionaires picking up the tab for him, Janus took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ordered unions to provide workers like Janus with essentially a free lunch. That is, the court said unions must represent freeloaders like him, but those workers don’t have to pay anything for all they get—no dues, no fees, nothing.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The whole point of Janus’ and the billionaires’ court crusade was to bankrupt and try to kill unions. And Trump was on their side.

If Trump really were the billionaire of the people, he’d have stood with the union. That’s who Trump promised that he would protect, the organization of average people trying to earn an honest living and standing up to big government and big corporations.

But he didn’t.

That was in June of last year. Just last week, Trump went to court seeking enforcement of his executive orders restricting unions representing federal workers and enabling him to quickly fire workers. The unions contend Trump does not have this authority. This is not settled in court yet, but Trump is asking a judge to let him impose the orders before it is.

That sounds like a president using all of the power of big government to step on the tens of thousands of little guys who do the grueling work, day after day, to ensure the federal government serves the American people reasonably well.

There’s even more. So much more.

  • Trump slow-walked implementation of silica and beryllium exposure safeguards intended to save workers’ lives and delayed a rule requiring mine operators to identify potential hazards before workers begin their shifts.
  • He helped thwart an attempt to extend overtime pay to 4 million workers.
  • Trump blocked a rule that would have made it harder for corporations that violate labor laws to get federal contracts.
  • Trump lifted not one finger to help those crushed by a starvation $7.25 minimum wage not raised in a decade.

And then there are his labor secretary choices. First he wanted Andy Puzder, CEO of the restaurant corporation that owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., an opponent of raising the minimum wage who said he preferred machines to humans. Puzder withdrew, and Alexander Acosta took over until he was forced to resign last month as a result of the unconscionable plea deal he gave an accused molestera decade ago when Acosta was a federal prosecutor.

Now the interim secretary is Patrick Pizzella, who lobbied for years to prevent Congress from extending minimum wage requirements to the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States, where workers were paid as little as $1 an hour but the corporate bosses got to mark the merchandise produced there as Made in America. I guess that’s how you Make America Great Again, huh?

Now, Trump has picked Scalia, son of the late, anti-worker Supreme Court justice. This is the guy who killed a proposed ergonomics rule to protect workers against injuries from repetitive motions, denigrating the research as “junk science” and “quackery.”

This is the guy who argued that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency of the Labor Department, had no authority to regulate worker safety at SeaWorld after a 12,300-poundorca that had killed twice before attacked and drowned a trainer in front of hundreds of horrified children.

This is the guy who stopped the fiduciary rule that would have required brokers to act in clients’ best interest rather than brokers’ personal financial benefit by forbidding brokers from recommending investments that paid brokers big commissions but provided clients with low returns. This corrupt practice costs workers and retirees about $17 billion a year.

This is the guy who persuaded an appeals court to force card dealers in Las Vegas to split the tips they earn with their supervisors.

This guy is among the lawyers representing a petroleum producers’ trade association that is suing to overturn a California regulation calling for worker participation to improve refinery safety. The state passed the legislation after a refinery fire in Richmond, California, sent 15,000 nearby residents to hospitals and doctor’s offices for treatment, mostly for breathing problems. The lawsuit was filed in July, just days before an explosion and fire at an Exxon Mobil refinery in Texas that injured 37 people.

Scalia is a corporate shill. And he’d be reporting to Trump, whose slavish support of corporate bosses over working Americans has revealed he’s nothing more than a poser in a red MAGA baseball cap.

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  1. Partyless Poster

    So this is whats exasperating, if the Democrats actually hammered on these issues the would have so much support, instead its Russia Russia Russia all the time.
    “inauthentic opposition” its like they don’t want to win.

  2. John Beech

    Come on, nobody likes dealing with unions, not even Bernie. I suspect he’s been hoist by his own petard because he’s now on the horns of the pay dilemma of private enterprise due to his campaign workers unionizing and making pay demands.

    Dealing with a labor union presents me with a conundrum. While I agree with the philosophy of a labor union, and for them having a voice because they ‘should’, I break with them in favor of management’s view of union labor. Why? It’s because the union members aren’t good team players.

    Sadly – and proving my pay grade doesn’t extend high enough to have all the answers – I also break with one of management practices. This because I feel management are also poor team players because they pay themselves so darned much it seems unfair.

    Basically I feel like one for all and all for one works for Musketeers and teams, the spirit falls apart with private capital. And that Marx business of, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” is a proven loser.

    I theorize each time it’s because labor and management aren’t really working for one team. How is Southwest’s vaunted employee owned doing? Everybody happy? I doubt it. I almost wish there were privately held companies where there’s an owner and employees, and employee-owned only. And publicly held must be accountable to government oversight to prevent abuses.

    Why? I suspect if ‘all’ shares of Southwest were owned by the employees ‘only’ then the collectively ‘they’ would be rich in fact because only they owned the means of production (moving people and cargo via air for lucre).

    Anyway, the key part everybody forgets about Marx is he prefaced the above in part with . . .”after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want.”

    This is an important point being overlooked because it presupposes people ‘want’ to go to work. Don’t know about you but I don’t really know many who want to work. Most would rather sip margaritas on the beach instead of going into work. Thus, as long as this is the case, the Marxist dream is just that, a pipe dream because most folks are ‘lazy’ – or put another way – don’t want to exist only to work. Don’t really blame them.

    Anyway, if we recognize the truth of this (that many don’t especially want to work), then it follows we also receive less productive work from some vs. others, then paying everybody the same is inherently unfair. And by extension, setting a minimum pay means everybody at that level is worth the same, and we know this isn’t true!

    So if you here are are forced to accept the validity of some of this, e.g. some who will show up and be a warm body – but – won’t be a team player and give their heart to doing the best job, and others won’t show up for a paycheck at all if not forced by want, then everybody isn’t worth the same wage! In fact, is it unreasonable to presuppose some simply aren’t worth a minimum amount of pay? Further to the point, forcing a minimum pay becomes in some terms, almost immoral and the antithesis of freedom because we don’t receive some fair bit of labor in exchange from some.

    Could this be why so many, especially amongst the working poor, are simply against Socialism/Communism/Marxism even if they can’t put the ‘why they’re against it’ into words? Yes, I know they’re not the same but they’ll be tarred with the same brush by Capitalist forces so the answers needs must.

    Anyway, circling back, I am delighted with Bernie’s newfound union involvement from management’s perspective. Why? It’s because I very much look forward to see how his views evolve.

    1. skippy

      I think the American neoliberal matrix has shifted social perspectives during its decadal tenure E.g. there is only the Market where one can become a Kardashian, Entertainment, IT, YouTube Vloger, et al and Brand Name Commodity for sale …. individual needs and wants expressed in a manner Marx never envisioned.

      The financial elites are already on Mars for all intents and purposes ….

      1. The Rage

        That isn’t neoliberalism. But technological changes building new snake oil businesses.

      2. skippy

        Atomistic individualism denoted in wealth from a corporatist view point ….

        Would be great if you unpack your opinions … about not.

    2. Left in Wisconsin

      Employers aren’t supposed to like dealing with unions, not even socialist employers. The libs (not you) who think they have something on Bernie because his union actually pushed for better wages and benefits just completely don’t get it. Back in the day, any decent local union would always have grievances in the pipeline just to keep management on their toes. Now, in a lot of these “progressive” workplaces that are proudly unionized, there is immense pressure not to file any grievances or air any disputes because of the fear of bad press. Which is completely ludicrous. (They call it “countervailing power” for a reason.) To Bernie’s credit, he is dealing with his union straight-up.

      On work, my experience is that most, virtually all, people want to do productive work but most jobs just completely suck, so it isn’t surprising that many workers aren’t enthusiastic. Part of this is labor law. After WW2, when the unions pushed for a bigger say in how work was actually done, Taft-Hartley reinforced the NLRA’s legal requirement that employers were only required to bargain over “wages, hours, and working conditions.” Many on the left argue that the Big Three bought off the UAW (the leaders at the time in challenging management’s “right to manage”) with decent wages and fringe benefits. (In my view, given the die-hard opposition of management + the law + the public sentiment in that era, I don’t think real shop floor control was achievable. Most people don’t know that the 400-page union contract with a zillion narrowly-defined job titles was a management invention, only later zealously defended by unions.)

    3. YankeeFrank

      Oh please, all this team player talk and some people don’t deserve a minimum wage… do you have any idea how massively the US employee is exploited and trashed by the “team players” in management? Everyone, even those who don’t want to work, deserve to live. You have apparently imbibed the capitalist mantra that work defines moral value so fully that anyone who can’t or won’t work should starve. The fact is our society produces so much surplus value it could (and does) afford to support a substantial number who don’t work for various reasons (mainly disability due to working physically demanding jobs for decades that ruin their bodies). Work doesn’t equal morality. Try to dig yourself out of the neoliberal mindset, its inhumane and morally hollow.

      1. jrs

        +1000 even those who don’t want to work, deserve to live.

        Besides the fact that I suspect there are actually VERY FEW who don’t want to do any work. The beef isn’t actually with this tiny minority but that they don’t work to some capitalists definition of optimum (explotation). When a medieval peasant spent less time working than we do. So maybe they are working like medieval peasants which should actually be MORE THAN possible, if technology has done anything, but oddly since all the wealth funneled to the top, it’s not.

    4. Left in Wisconsin

      Anyway, if we recognize the truth of this (that many don’t especially want to work), then it follows we also receive less productive work from some vs. others, then paying everybody the same is inherently unfair. And by extension, setting a minimum pay means everybody at that level is worth the same, and we know this isn’t true!

      No doubt some workers do more and/or better work than others but, for almost all jobs, it is a myth that there is an economically fair way to pay workers based on their productivity. Because outside of a few truly solo occupations, all output is collective output – there is no way to distinguish each individual worker’s contribution to that output. So pay is always a socio-economic outcome, based as much on social convention and bargaining power as any putative economic contribution. At one time, this was well and truly understood. But economists have massively obfuscated this common-sense point.

      The fairest pay for production workers (regardless of what industry they work in or what goods or services they produce) is the pay that those workers, via their union, determine to be most fair. The reason why unions always push for equal pay for the same job is because they view favoritism as a more serious offense against fairness than someone not as talented getting the same pay as someone more talented.

    5. Darthbobber

      I recommend William Morris’s excellent essay, “Useful Work versus Useless Toil.” Conveys very well the problems with most employment.

      Morris was quite good, BTW, at presenting his understanding of Marc’s central points in an empirical English fashion.

    1. John Beech

      Well, defacto, President Trump doesn’t actually have a problem with such a recession because he’s on Mars with the rest of the elites. It’s ‘we the people’ who have the problem because we’re the ones who actually suffer in a recession.

  3. Louis Fyne

    “…Not very well, actually, not very well. When it comes down to picking sides—standing up for workers’ rights or lining the pockets of CEOs and shareholders—Trump aligned himself and his policies with the fat cats…. ”

    Oh, if only Democrats were in complete control of the White House, Senate and House at some point within the past 10 years!

    The decline of the unions has been 50 years in the making under Democrats and Republicans. Blaming Trump is a convenient scapegoat and pinata for the left, but just the icing on the cake for decades of bad DC policies. Trump didn’t create the Rust Belt or sign NAFTA.

    just saying.

    1. The Rage

      NAFTA is a big nothing. It helped boost capital flows which capital needs for production. US growth is running above shrinking supply, which rejects your point.

      The post-war era is the only time in is history, workers made such gains. Pretty clear why.

      Just Saying…..

      1. Noel Nospamington

        The USA has had trade surpluses with Canada under NAFTA:

        The United States has a $12.5 billion trade surplus with Canada in 2016. Canada has historically held a trade deficit with the United States in every year since 1985 in net trade of goods, excluding services. The trade relationship between the two countries crosses all industries and is vitally important to both nations’ success as each country is one of the largest trade partners of the other.

        And yet Trump blackmailed Canada into the USMCA which is far worse than NAFTA for both countries, and provides more benefits to large multi-national corporations.

        Lets hope that the American congress kills USMCA, and leaves NAFTA in place.

        The strange thing is that with the Trump administration attacking all of the American friends/allies, no one is willing to step in and help America with curtailing Chinese trade abuses.

        1. rd

          Why would they? China will end up buying agricultural and other products that were going to be purchased from the US from the other countries instead.

          Meanwhile, the rest of the OECD viewed things like Chinese steel and aluminum dumping as an issue which is why they were baffled when the US hit the other countries with tariffs instead of focusing on China. Trump could have gotten significant support for a wide-ranging protection against steel and aluminum issues with China but he killed that possibility before even discussing it.

          By viewing it as US against the world, he has ensured minimal support for any of his trade negotiations with China.

    2. Darthbobber

      I think the point they’re making is by no means that this started with Trump, or that the Democrats have been all that great. Merely that he’s been significantly worse (and many of the examples are egregiously anti-labor actions that would not have been done under a Clinton ((or a Bush or Romney for that matter)) and that the preposterousness of his thin pretence at being a friend of labor is an order of magnitude greater even than Biden’s.

  4. eg

    A few days ago a tweet was in one of the daily links (or maybe the water cooler), and would appear germane here:

    “The problem with America is that the people making $700 an hour have convinced the people making $25 an hour that the people making $7.50 an hour are the problem”

  5. rd

    Trump is in a race with reality.

    His rhetoric has been highly supportive of farmers and manufacturing companies and workers.

    In practice, he is destroying many of the farmers markets while supporting manufacturing and resource extraction firms at the expense of their workers and communities (labor, safety, and environmental protections reduced or slow-walked).

    Will farmers and workers figure out that he is not their friend before November, 2020? That is the big bet that Trump and the Republican Party have made.

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