WASHINGTON – America's top labor leader has been waiting all his life for a president who struck trade deals on behalf of America's workers rather than its corporations.
And now Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, has just that, in President Donald Trump. But he's not so excited about it.
Trumka spelled out why over the course of an hour-long breakfast with reporters on Wednesday. To hear Trumka tell it, Trump is too scattershot on trade – and on other issues, his administration is taking aim directly at American workers.
Sure, Trump made a lot of promises to working people during his 2016 campaign, but apart from his promise to rewrite America's trade deals,
“nearly all of those promises are broken or unfulfilled," Trumka said.
That being said, Trumka gave the president high marks for at least trying to cut better trade deals for American workers.
“I think he’s going in the right direction on trade,” Trumka said.
The trouble, Trumka said, is that Trump is taking aim with a shotgun instead of a rifle. And as a result, the president is hitting some of the wrong targets – especially America's neighbor to the north.
Trump hit Canada with 15 percent tariffs on aluminium and 25 percent tariffs on steel, saying it's all about Canada's protectionist dairy cartel. Canada, predictably, responded with a round of tariffs on U.S. products.
All of which baffles Trumka.
"I don't think that Canada has violated the rules," he said. "Canada is an important trading partner."
What's more, Trumka worries that all this pressure on Canada will make it harder to negotiate a more worker-friendly North American Free Trade Agreement.
"Our enemy is not the workers in Canada or Mexico," he said. "Our enemy are the the elites and Wall Streeters and the financiers in Mexico and the United States and Canada."
In Trumka's view, Trump has been very, very good to corporate interests on just about every issue but trade. And to prove it, the labor leader came to the breakfast armed with a 50-point list of "anti-worker actions by President Trump."
The list takes aim at everything from Trump's "massive tax cuts for the rich" to his administration's derailing of rules aimed at paying workers overtime and keeping them safe in the workplace. And that's just the start.
In fact, the AFL-CIO's list of complaints against Trump strangely mirrors that of the Democratic Party. It attacks Trump for failing to protect young immigrants brought here illegally by their parents, for separating immigrant families at the border, for supposedly gutting the Dodd-Frank bill that's supposed to protect the financial industry from itself, for nominating Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. And so on.
Not surprisingly, then, Trumka said big labor is organizing earlier than ever before to mobilize members to vote Democratic this fall. And the early signs – an uptick in union membership and a strong movement against a "right to work" bill in Missouri – look good for labor and the Democrats.
"I think the Democrats will have more seats and they will control the House because they speak to kitchen table economics far more clearly effectively and fluently than the people are running against," Trumka said.
A lot of working people probably would disagree with Trumka. After all, Trump did 10 percentage points better with union members than Mitt Romney, the previous Republican nominee, all because he talked tough on trade and on just about everything else that drags working people down.
Now, though, plenty of people see that it was just talk, Trumka said.
And as a result, "I think there'll be a course correction in this election," he said.
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