February 16, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY - This week’s defeat of Andy Puzder’s nomination as U.S. labor secretary could help further thwart the Trump administration’s strategy of dividing and conguering the labor movement — but the head of the largest union of property service workers in the nation is convinced that unions will stand together and fight no matter what.
Even before critical pressure forced CKE Restaurants boss Andy Puzder to drop out of the running for U.S. labor secretary, 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa was telling LaborPress that unity among labor unions and community groups against Trump's anti-worker agenda is going to happen from “the bottom up.”
Trump made headlines when he held a convivial powwow with the heads of many of the nation’s major building trades unions almost immediately following his inauguration on January 20.
“To me, it’s natural that when a new president comes in, some people see the writing on the wall and are ready to fight — and other people are trying to figure out ways to collaborate and make things happen.” Figueroa told LaborPress last Friday. “This is an administration that is so extreme about workers’ rights, about immigrants’ rights — that I think it will leave us no choice, but for all to come together. And it will happen from the bottom up.”
Of course, profound rank and file dissatisfaction with the neoliberal corporatism embodied in Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign run, is one of the major reasons why Trump was able to best her in the Electoral College and plant himself in the Oval Office for January 23’s tete a tete with select union leaders.
As Ironworkers President Eric Dean later told LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz," “Donald Trump, for sure, is trying to drive a wedge [between labor unions]."
“That was apparent on the first day when he invited the construction trades [into the Oval Office],” Dean said. “And he gave maybe a message to the non-construction trades…’Hey, I’m going to talk to these guys… and in the meantime, I’m proposing some of the most radical cabinet people that could eventually cut [labor’s own] throats if [they’re] not careful.”
Last week, John Skinner, political & legislative director for Ironworkers Local 46, emphasized the need for union solidarity.
“I would, of course, like to see more labor solidarity in every aspect that we can pull together to fight the people who are trying to hurt working people,” Skinner said.
At the same time, Bhairavi Desai, head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, downplayed the importance of Trump’s divide and conquer strategy, saying that a new consciousness has been sparked amongst hard-pressed working people.
“The question is, is the leadership going to stand with their rank & file, or are they going to be the gatekeepers of this new administration?” Desai said. “I personally don’t think they’re going to be able to sit around and think through that question because people are organized and mobilized — and they’re going to force that leadership to be out there and stand on the right side of history.”
As for as New York goes, Figueroa is sure that worker and union solidarity is already a potent force opposing the Trump agenda.
“We have been working separately many years, collaborating with one other, but we're here to say today that whatever our different perspectives or different trajectories, and the groups of workers we represent -- we're all united,” he said.