December 10, 2016
By Jon Hiatt
Washington DC – Rather than slice and dice the electorate into different demographics and voting blocks, we have to understand what happened on Nov. 8 not as a vote for or against the two candidates.
Rather, it was something much larger. It was an expression of the insecurity of working people all over the formerly industrialized world, brought on by globalization forcing them to compete for work in a labor market without borders. Candidate Trump was correct when he said, “I see a big parallel” between U.K. voters favoring Brexit and U.S. citizens supporting him. Both were expressions of the belief that existing institutions of government are no longer protecting the security and well-being of working people in a global economy.
Union officers who talk to their members will tell you that the insecurity and anger underlying the vote was real. And they also will tell you that if that insecurity and anger is not addressed, they will threaten liberal democracy and slow or even reverse our halting progress toward equality.
Both candidates were right that we need to rebuild our physical infrastructure to compete in the global economy, but we also need to rebuild the infrastructure of government and society—most centrally the institutions that speak for working people, their unions. If we revive U.S. manufacturing without unions, we will not bring back good jobs. Factory jobs and jobs in the mines were not good jobs until they became union jobs and the same will be true in the future.
Long before Donald Trump eyed the presidency, U.S. unions understood what our trade policy was doing to working America. Standing against democratic presidents, unions opposed The North American Free Trade Agreement and unions opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Unions have called for an industrial policy that would train U.S. workers for high value-added occupations, rebuild our infrastructure, bring opportunity to disadvantaged communities and create green jobs.
If we invest in infrastructure, shift our trade policy and encourage manufacturing without rebuilding our unions, the rich will get richer and the rest will get angrier. If we permit workplace raids and deportations that make people afraid to organize and divide workers by color and nationality, working people will lose rather than gain bargaining power. If we do not rebuild the institutions that used to insure that working people had a voice in government, working people will continue to lose faith in democracy. Yet within hours of the election results being announced, Trump’s colleagues in the Republican Party were planning exactly that—to adopt “right to work” laws weakening unions in Missouri, Kentucky and New Hampshire and to appoint a Supreme Court justice who will cut the financial legs out from under unions that represent firefighters, nurses, teachers and sanitation workers. If the president-elect allows his party to undermine the very organizations needed to deliver on his promise to working Americans, their rightful anger will not only drive him from office, but threaten to tear the fabric of our democracy.