UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 9, 2009

CAN TRUMKA BRING LABOR BACK TO LIFE?

David Moberg, Nation - Richard Trumka--once a coal miner-lawyer from tiny Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, but for the past fourteen years secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO--will officially announce his candidacy for presidency of the labor federation on Thursday. But with no other candidates even rumored and, by Trumka's account, a majority of votes already in the bag, the transfer of power from President John Sweeney next September seems almost certain. . .

Trumka, who was seen by some union leaders as too militant when Sweeney picked him, has long had an affinity for the industrial unions, but he also has some strong supporters among service unions, such as the California Nurses Association and AFSCME (public employees). As secretary-treasurer he worked with union pension funds and educated himself on economic issues. He wants the AFL-CIO in the future to devote more attention to research and economic policy and to seek more advice from labor-friendly academics.

In Trumka's view, the unionism of the 1930s forged a social compact that made possible the middle class prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s. But since the early 1970s, Wall Street and financial interests have dominated American politics, dismantling the compact and increasing inequality, debt and insecurity as workers struggled to keep up. These interests created the current crisis through their recklessness and deregulation, won through political money power--such as $5 billion in campaign contributions and lobbying by the financial industries over the past decade. "Though Republicans deserve the lion's share of the blame," he says, "it's been a bipartisan failure, and it's been driven by Wall Street domination of politics."

The deregulatory, antiworker, bubble model of capitalism failed. Now labor's long-held goals are regarded as more legitimate. "What we've been saying over the last couple of decades has proven true," Trumka says. "In the '90s we were talking about excessive CEO pay. We were saying deregulation and paper machinations no one understood would cause problems. When they did away with the distinction of commercial and investment banks, we said there would be consequences, and we were right. Now we're at a crossroads and the American people don't want the old model, and we've got the credibility. The key is, build more allies at the grassroots, educate them and mobilize them so the pushback is from politics at the grassroots, not just Wall Street.". . .

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