Tuesday’s election results sent shock waves across the globe after voters selected President-elect Donald Trump as the 45th president — but the results may not have been as surprising to America’s rust belt.
Trump’s message on jobs, trade and the economy resonated in battleground states that turned red for the first time in decades. Trump was able to take in a good number of rank and file union members who usually vote Democrat, even though many union leaders threw support behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton still beat Trump by eight points among union households, but that number is 10 points lower than the union household support Obama received over Romney in 2012, according to a Fox News exit poll.
Trump took the rust belt, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Labor leaders voiced their support for Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this past summer, despite significant support for the Republican nominee among the labor ranks.
Top leaders of the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the National Education Association AFSCME, and other labor groups voiced their support for Clinton and blasted Trump throughout the campaign. “He [Donald Trump] thinks he’s a tough guy. I know tough guys. They’re friends of mine, and Donald, you’re no tough guy; you’re a phony,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said during the summer.
There were reports and polls on Trump’s support among union members, but national union bosses held their ground behind Clinton. Surveys revealed that while Trump did not have a majority support, he had significantly more than previous Republican candidates.
The AFL-CIO’s political organizing arm, Working America, even found Trump trounced Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders among voting members during the primaries.
The Tran-Pacific Partnership, backed by President Barack Obama, and a deal that Clinton once called, “the gold standard in trade agreements,” was one of the most contentious issue for union members. Clinton changed her position on TPP as the Democratic primary became a real battle against primary challenger Sanders.
Clinton’s support from national bosses did not guarantee support from rank and file members, especially in cases where she threatened men and women’s livelihoods.
At a town hall in West Virginia this past March, Clinton said that, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
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 supported Trump in the general. He told the Detroit News that, “neither the Democrats nor Republicans are for the working man. But Trump gets it.”
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