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Friday, October 21, 2016

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, recently spoke with The National Memo about the sequester’s automatic budget cuts, the danger of cuts to Social Security, the Keystone XL pipeline, immigration reform, President Obama, and how to defend labor in an era of attacks on the right to organize.

The 64 year-old Trumka worked his way through college and law school in Pennsylvania’s coal fields. Fourteen years later, he became the youngest elected president in United Mine Workers history — and went on to election as secretary-treasurer and then, in 2009, as president of America’s largest labor federation.

Tough, outspoken, and progressive, he didn’t hesitate to criticize President Obama – or the labor movement itself. And he offered surprising remarks about climate change, the possibility of a carbon tax, and his hope for dramatic changes in the house of labor.

On the federal budget sequester, which is harming millions of union workers in and out of government, Trumka said that unions will continue “to educate people that the Republicans are trying to hold the economy hostage. They manufacture crisis after crisis after crisis…Disarming the hostage takers – and I’ll call them that – means repealing and not replacing sequestration.”

Moreover, he bluntly rejects any budgetary “Grand Bargain — or at least the Washington version of such a deal.

“If the Grand Bargain includes cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, then we would be very, very worried about that – not just worried, we will oppose that.  Let me just give you one example – the ‘Chained CPI [consumer price index, used to calculate increases in Social Security].  That’s another example of how Washington creates fancy-sounding phrases to mask stupid policies that only work for the rich. “

Instead, the union leader – who led two successful strikes against major coal companies — prefers to see the federal government use its enormous bargaining power to reduce the cost of health care, which is the biggest driver of federal deficits.

“Every other country in the world does that… I met with the head of a pharmaceutical company and do you know what he told me? He said the reason Americans pay too much for drugs is because the rest of the world pays too little.  [Other nations] negotiate down to a fair price, and we don’t do that. We gave that away in the debate – the president did – and got nothing in return for it.”

He also notes that the effective corporate tax is so low that some firms pay no taxes at all.  He urges a surtax on millionaires, a “tiny tax on Wall Street speculation,” and closing “loopholes” that favor Wall Street hedge fund managers and derivative traders.

Yet even as he slaps corporate America for evading its “fair share,” Trumka is negotiating with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over immigration reform – specifically, how to treat “guest workers.”  Optimistic about a “reasonable path to citizenship” for all 11.5 million undocumented workers, Trumka wants to be sure that any new program won’t allow renewed exploitation of Latino immigrants.  New guest workers must be treated fairly – and allowed to bring their families along.

For Trumka, this debate is deeply personal: His grandfather immigrated from Poland; his mother, from Italy.

“My grandfather came to this country, landed at Ellis Island, and was immediately shipped to the coalfields in southwestern Pennsylvania. He worked two years before he could send for my grandmother; he worked even longer before he could send for his daughters…That shouldn’t happen to any family.”

Unlike many raised in coal country, however, Trumka acknowledges global warming. “Do I believe there’s global climate change out there? Yes I do. I think the facts support that and I think that we as a nation and as a world have to address the problem and correct it – so that our grandkids and our great-grandkids and their great-grandkids can have a quality of life that’s sustainable. “

But that doesn’t mean he opposes the Keystone XL oil pipeline, current bête noir of environmental movement. Although the AFL-CIO hasn’t directly backed Keystone, it has endorsed “pipelines in general,” says Trumka, who argues that the pipeline will have “a smaller carbon footprint” than other methods of transporting those petroleum products.

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Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • Only those living in the most remote areas on planet Earth remain unaware of the determination of the GOP to establish a plutocracy that dominates all facets of life in the United States. Their overt plans to dismantle social programs, roll back minority and gender rights, destroy organized labor, oppose livable wages, and hold the economy hostage to achieve their goal of prosperity through an elitist society leave little doubt as to where their objectives are.
    Instead of reflecting on the root causes of their defeat in 2012, they are now more determined than ever to push their agenda, by whatever means are necessary and against the will of the majority. The warnings coming from experienced conservative legislators are ignored by a rank and file consumed by hatred, intolerance and supine ignorance. They may be destroying the party from within, but in the interim they may also be causing irreparable damage to our country in their quest to save it by rolling back social progress to the pre-civil rights era, the days of child labor and the company store.
    The new GOP, dominated by its Tea Party wing, is like a cancer spreading through our society to destroy it from within.

    • Tell that to all my relatives and neighbors who think we are left wing liberal loonies! You can’t even discuss anything with them! For them, it’s all quotes from Fox, Limbaugh, Beck etc! No ideas, just quotes! They are not isolated, make decent money and, I never thought, stupid, so with that point of yours I have to disagree.

      • sigrid28

        They are in the infamous right wing bubble, impervious to logic or the opinion of those with whom they disagree. One sociological theory about the bubble holds that individuals within it are deeply devoted to the status quo and see no reason to question their long-held beliefs. They quote Fox and conservative pundits because they listen to media to reinforce their beliefs and not to learn something new. When your relatives and neighbors call Democrats “left wing liberal loonies” they mean people who I think are crazy because they want to bring about change. Folks within the bubble think everything is fine just the way it is.

        Liberals, according to this sociological theory, are more gregarious, willing to contemplate change, and open to the views of others. Imagine how different an interview with a Tea Party president of the AFL-CIO would be from this interview with Richard Trumka, who questions not only received ideas on the right but received ideas on the left. This is what makes us fans of discourse and activism, social justice and a progressive agenda.

        Which side has the best chance of coming out on top? If we look at it from a Darwinian point of view, the species that adjusts best to living in its environment will survive, and those that cannot or will not adjust become extinct. The status quo may support more and more individuals at one time, but survival in the long run of the species as a whole depends on natural selection and survival of the fittest. No wonder inhabitants of the bubble reject science and prefer Creationism.

    • sigrid28

      I appreciate the “National Memo” for giving us Joe Conason’s summary of a superb interview with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, balanced political opinion on the left that shows a willingness to contemplate the real problems facing the United States. I’m grateful for this voice of solid reason and serious opinion that contrasts so dramatically with the harmful policies of the Tea Party and the self-destructive social agenda that supports them. Maybe we can take some solace from Trumka’s refusal to buy into the rhetoric of the right and at the same time evaluate problems we must solve from a clearly defined point of view, informed by ideas that liberals hold dear but not witlessly wedded to them. The more media like the “National Memo” offer insight into the real problems before us–the need for jobs, fair wages, and economic stimulus–the better we will be at solving them.

    • I would only change one word to your statement, and that is to replace ‘dominate’ instead of using destroy! Reason being is that why destroy something that is feeding you, the repugs,…..

    • montanabill

      You have been reading too many DNC talking point memos and not paying enough attention to what the up and comers in the GOP are saying. By the way, having a majority does not always mean they are right. Example: Mugabe, Zimbabwe.

    • CPAinNewYork

      I believe that by taking that tack, the Republicans are sowing the seeds of their eventual destruction.

  • montanabill

    Hey, I agree with Trumka on at least one issue: no Grand Bargain. All ‘increased government revenues’ must be off the table. Otherwise, he is so stuck in the world of the rabbit hole, that up is down, large is small and left is right.

    • cpbis

      Revenues from closed loopholes are off the table? You think that makes a lot of sense? My goodness I would have flunked my economics class if I believed that!

      • You just Flunked

        • cpbis

          You obviously never took economics in college or masters programs. Loopholes must be taken out. Even Romney and most other Republicans wanted that from the start. Now they back off!

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    The GOP love to hide the fact that what they really want is constant infusions of cash…just like corporations get every time they increase their prices. If we pay taxes and there isn’t a single dime of ROI for those taxes, the GOP believes this is the only way to balance the budget…take money from taxpayers so they’ll exist to work to pay taxes for which there is no ROI. In other words, Worry Free Wall Street where payroll tax deductions provide rivers of cash to recklessly invest with. I thought we stopped this kind of speculative BS when FDR was president. We are now all too dangerously close to the era of Neo Robber Barons…sucking up every dime of tax dollars earmarked to help corporations filthy rich in profits.

  • Yes and many unions hated Reagan to. He was not a good president.

    • You got that right. My mother always had this to say about Republicans, a depression or recession happens after one takes office, or just before they leave office and there is always a war connected to what Republicans do while in office.. She was right and the Republicans of today are a perfect example of what she was talking about.

    • Independent1

      Here’s just a few of the reasons: Biggest drunken sailor spender of any president in American history with 8.7%/yr budget increases; his ‘trickle-down economics’ fairytale, and the ‘tax cuts will spur the economy’ fairytale; and his starting the practice of keeping 25-50% of his spending outside his budgets all have contributed to the current political gridlock we’re in today and to him and the two Bushes being responsible for 90% of our current deficits.

  • what the republicans have not figured out is the poor and lower income people have figured out they mean nothing to the republicans except to take more from us and protect and make the rich people richer. maybe they should get the picture the poor want to vote and have the same opportunities as the rich. they protect all the loopholes and the rich who pay little or no taxes yet always want to make all cuts to the poorest of the peoples. wake up and smell the voting issue this 47 % will count