New TWU Leader: Democrats Need 'Class-Based Message'

May 13, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco

John Samuelsen.

New York, NY - John Samuelsen, newly tapped president of the Transportation Workers Union of America, [TWU] says he will bring the same kind of “working class progressivism” he was known for as the outspoken leader of TWU Local 100 in New York City, to his new role as head of the 140,000-member national organization.

“I think there’s a big difference between working class progressivism — trade union progressivism — and the cultural progressivism that has really infused the Democratic Party. Obviously, I have a big problem with that,” Samuelsen said in a LaborPress “Blue Collar Buzz” interview set to air this Sunday night at 9 p.m. on AM970. 

TWU Local 100 was one of the very few New York City labor unions to buck the Democratic Party machine’s coronation of Hillary Clinton, and, instead, throw its support strongly behind Bernie Sanders’ blue collar run presidential run. 

“In my mind, that kind of cultural progressivism and the Democrats infatuation with it, is what delivered the White House to Donald Trump,” Samuelsen said. “Kind of a madman. [And] he’s in the White House. And cultural progressivism and the Democrats embracing it, cost them the election.” 

Although the Democratic Party establishment shows no sign of changing course, Samuelsen — the former track worker from Brooklyn — said that Democrats do, indeed, need to get back to a “class-based message.”

“The trade union movement is the vehicle for economic security for working people in this country and not cultural progressivism,” Samuelsen said. “That’s not going to win working people over, or win them back to the Democrats.”

Presently, Samuelsen said the TWU lacks a cohesive national political program — and he’d like to change that. 

“We need to get a national political program off the ground in terms of a legislative program…in terms of an electoral political program,” Samuelsen said. “In New York, we were able to build a political program that was able to win a congressional race, with [U.S. Representative Adriano] Espaillat being an example. Local 100 was the driving force behind that election through political organizing and through the involvement of the rank and file transit workers that hit the campaign on behalf of [Representative] Espaillat.”

Elected to the House earlier this year representing New York’s 13th Congressional District, Espaillat was also the first Dominican-American elected to a state legislature when he won a seat in the New York State Assembly back in 1996. 

“It’s my intention to build that type of electoral organizing capacity to compliment a legislative capacity on the national level where we can intervene in state races, congressional races, and so on and so forth,” Samuelsen continued. “We have to build that up. I’m not so sure my voice is going to carry the authority that it will without that type of organizing capacity. They go hand-in-hand. I’ll be able to speak with much more authority once we have a political capacity that just doesn’t’ exist now.” 

All that will have to wait — at least until Samuelsen helps secure a new contact for 25,000 TWU members working for American Airlines.

“My first priority is to bring home a solid contract for our American Airlines membership,” Samuelsen said. “I intend to make that my immediate focus.”

LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” airs every Sunday night on AM970 The Answer from 9 to 10 p.m. This week’s episode, as well as every other episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” is also available on demand at



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