Finally someone takes a stand for the middle class – Organized Labor

“Our role is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate. It’s to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our economy, our country.” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in a speech to the National Press Club, May 20, 2011

You can call it the “Trumka Doctrine.”

During a panel discussion, at the Social Investment Forum Conference, in Washington, DC, Friday, AFL-CIO Special Policy Counsel Damon Silvers confronted the General Counsel of the Senate Banking Committee, Dean Shahinian, when the latter revealed that the chair of the powerful committee, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) would consider re-visiting the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation that was signed into law last year.

This is how the Huffington Post, which was moderating the panel, described the exchange:

“Shahinian warned that investors may have to accept a weaker-than-anticipated version of new disclosures on CEO pay mandated by last year’s Wall Street reform bill. Shahinian also acknowledged that his boss, committee chairman Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), would be willing to re-open last year’s landmark legislation and rewrite some aspects of the law if bipartisan political consensus about some measures could be established.

“AFL-CIO Special Policy Counsel Damon Silvers immediately interrupted Shahinian: ‘I think Senator Johnson needs to think about his political future,’ he said. The audience of potential campaign contributors let out an audible gasp.

“Shahinian responded that Silvers’ comment was ‘inappropriate’ for the panel, but the union lawyer did not apologize.

“Instead, he instructed Shahinian to consider ‘the recent personal history of Blanche Lincoln.’ The AFL-CIO is widely credited with ruining any chance the former Democratic senator from Arkansas had of winning reelection in 2010. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer. is headquartered in Lincoln’s state, and the labor union had repeatedly objected to her positions on key workers’ rights issues.

“Unable to win over Lincoln, the AFL-CIO spent millions of dollars supporting progressive Democratic challenger Bill Halter in the 2010 primaries. Halter lost the primary, but the divided Democratic base caused Lincoln to suffer a landslide loss in the general election.”

Back in May, in a speech to the National Press Club, in Washington, DC, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka warned Democrats that they could not count on the support of labor, pro-forma, unless they take an active stand against the dismantling of unions and collect bargaining rights that have been pervasive in this country over the last thirty years.

Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO

“It doesn’t matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside — the outcome is the same either way,” Trumka told the NPC gathering, May 20. “If leaders aren’t blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, then working people will not support them. This is where our focus will be — now, in 2012 and beyond.”

The events in Wisconsin earlier this year, when Gov. Scott Walker muscled through a law that stripped state workers of their collective bargaining rights, awakened the labor movement and the progressive base that supports them. The ruckus that followed created fights against similar legislation in other states. Thus emboldened, the AFL-CIO and other labor organizations realized they had a part to play in reshaping the conversation around workers’ rights, calling it, as Trumka put it, “a moral challenge.”

“Think about the message these budgets send,” he reasoned, “sacrifice, is for the weak; the powerful and the well connected, they get tax cuts, so they can become more powerful, and more well connected.”

He went on, “[T]hese events signal a new and a dangerous phase, of a concerted effort to change the very nature of America, to replace the land of ‘liberty and justice for all,’ with the land of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.”

The middle class, being squeezed out by unemployment, underemployment and tax breaks for wealthy people and even wealthier corporations, needs a group to stand up for them. We need a powerful, willing and committed organization that has our interests – the interests of all working people, union or not – in mind as it fights for economic justice. Do Trumka’s words mean that the middle class finally has its champion? We hope so. It seems to be the only voice strong enough to get Washington to listen. Maybe the next “audible gasp” you hear will be coming from the campaign offices of incredulous Democrats, who are reminded, harshly, that their power comes from ordinary, working Americans.


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