Labor leaders voiced their support for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week, despite significant support for Republican nominee Donald Trump among labor ranks.
Top leaders of the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the National Education Association AFSCME, and other labor groups took to the stage at the DNC on Monday, voicing their support for Clinton and blasting Trump. “He thinks he’s a tough guy. Well, Donald, I worked in the mines with tough guys, I know tough guys. They’re friends of mine, and Donald, you’re no tough guy; you’re a phony,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.
There have been many reports and polls on Trump’s support among union members, and they seem to indicate that while Trump doesn’t have a majority support, he has significantly more than previous Republican candidates. The most damning report for top Democrats came from the AFL-CIO’s political organizing arm, Working America, which found that Trump trounced Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders among voting members who had firmly chosen a candidate.
In what may be the most contentious issue for union members is the Tran-Pacific Partnership, backed by President Barack Obama, and a deal that Clinton once called, “the gold standard in trade agreements.” Clinton changed her tune as the Democratic primary became a bruising battle against Sanders. The insurgent candidate constantly accosted Clinton for her support from Wall Street and for supporting previous trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA.
Clinton’s close confidant and current Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe, said Tuesday that Clinton will support the TPP if elected president. Clinton’s flip flop on support for the TPP is just one example of her strained relationship with American blue collar workers. In March, at a town hall in West Virginia, Clinton said that, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
While national union bosses push a message that Donald Trump cannot be trusted, and that, “He is no more a champion for American workers than a lion is a champion for a gazelle,” as Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon said, Rank and file members in states like Michigan are attracted to Trump’s message of America first, and fair trade.
In the summer of 2015, labor groups at the national level started lining up behind Clinton, seeing the choice as either her or one of the seventeen Republican candidates including Scott Walker, who recently took on big labor in Wisconsin. The other Democratic candidates were virtual unknowns, including Sanders. As Sanders gained popularity with a message tailored to working class voters, some unions, including the Communications Workers of America came out in support of Sanders.
Clinton’s support from national bosses does not guarantee support from rank and file members, especially if she continues to threaten men and women’s livelihoods. In March, at a town hall in West Virginia, Clinton said that, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” This is just one of countless of example as to why many working class voters and member of labor unions may find Trump much more favorable than Clinton or others who represent the national political parties, Democrat or Republican.
Pete Grusch, a United Auto Workers member and team leader at Ford Motor Company’s Wayne Assembly Plant, backed Bernie Sanders in the Michigan primary, but is now supporting Trump in the general. He told the Detroit News that, “neither the Democrats nor Republicans are for the working man. But Trump gets it.” Grusch estimates that 70 percent of his team will support Trump this fall.
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