Richard Trumka marching in "Main Street to Wall Street" rally (Mike Segar/Reuters)
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka spoke at the National Press Club Friday, providing a preview
Mr. Trumka, in a speech at the National Press Club, was unsparing in attacking Wisconsin's governor, Scott Walker, and other Republicans who he said were elected on a platform of creating jobs, but have instead gone to war against public-sector unions to strip them of their collective bargaining rights.
At the same time, he suggested, without naming names, that organized labor would withhold support from Democratic incumbents who had not fought hard enough against Republican efforts to curb collective bargaining or cut social programs.
"Our role is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate," he said in a clear warning to Democrats who have not gone to bat for labor. "It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country.
Mr. Trumka whose labor federation has traditionally been one of the most important pillars of the Democratic Party, urged—even warned—Democrats to do more to battle what he described as the Republican wrecking ball.
"It doesn't matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside—the outcome is the same either way," he said. "If leaders aren't blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families' interests, working people will not support them. This is where our focus will be—now, in 2012 and beyond."
His pronouncement has the weight of recent actions by various labor union behind him, as John Nichols points out. There's been a marked, and as he says positive trend, of "unions signaling that they will put more of their 'political' money into grassroots organizing and coalition building—as opposed to to simply placing the movement's financial and foot-soldier resources at the service of whatever Democratic candidate happens to be on the ballot." The fight against unions is happening locally and in the states, that's where the primary battleground is now and that's where labor has to focus.
But it should also wake national Dems up to the fact that working families are struggling to a degree now that they haven't since the Great Depression, and that labor can't keep supporting Democrats just because they are Democrats unless they get something in return. Democrats who act like Democrats and fight for working families.
"We'll be less inclined to support people in the future that aren't standing up and actually supporting job creation and the type of things that we're talking about. It doesn't matter what party they come from. It will be a measuring stick," Trumka explained on the eve of the speech.
That's what we talk about when we talk about "more and better Democrats" here. The country can't afford a Democratic party that's primary attribute is that they aren't the other guys any more. We have to have a party that aspires to be just a little bit better than that. Fundamentally, it means getting back to the core Democratic principle of the common good, of economic fairness and social justice. Here's how Trumka's said it:
This is not just a matter of morality—but it also makes economic sense. And never more so than today. It will simply not be enough to beat back the Scott Walkers, the John Kasichs, and the Koch Brothers. America's economic fate depends on us coming together to educate our children, to invest in our infrastructure, to face the threat of climate change and to reverse the yawning economic inequality that threatens our future.
Let me be specific. Unemployment stands at 9%. Underemployment is at 16%. Housing prices are falling, and foreclosures remain at historic highs. Economic growth is hovering at around 2% annually—not enough to put a dent in unemployment, especially as tax cuts expire, as the Recovery Act winds down—nd state and local governments gear up for more deep cuts.
Yet instead of having a national conversation about putting America back to work to build our future, the debate here in Washington is about how fast we can destroy the fabric of our country, about breaking the promises we made to our parents and grandparents. Understand, the Ryan budget destroys jobs—it destroys almost all the jobs created during this recovery. It guts Medicare. It attacks Social Security, the one piece of our retirement security system that actually works. And now we see Speaker Boehner and his colleagues engaged in a new round of blackmail—with a ransom note that reads: "Cut Medicare, dismantle the government, destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs to fund more tax cuts for the rich, or we will cause the United States to default on its debts."
Why is our national conversation in such a destructive place? Not because we are impoverished. We have never been richer. The American economy has never produced as much wealth as it does today. But we feel poor because the wealth in our society has flowed to a handful among us, and they and the politicians who pander to the worst instincts of the wealthy would rather break promises to our parents and grandparents and deny our children a future than pay their fair share of taxes.
America's real deficit is a moral deficit—where political choices come down to forcing foster children to wear hand-me-downs while cutting taxes for profitable corporations.