Organized labor has been under attack in the US for at least forty years, and the ascendance of Donald Trump to the presidency signals a new and dangerous period not just for trade unions, but for the entire working class.
NEW YORK — (Analysis) The sight of leaders of a number of major trade unions praising President Donald Trump after their meeting with him on Jan. 23 is perhaps the perfect illustration of everything wrong with the labor movement. More importantly, it demonstrates just how hollow President Trump’s rhetoric about defending workers and putting people “back to work” truly is.
For while Trump talks about investing in infrastructure and rebuilding America, ostensibly with the goal of improving the lives of workers, his administration is planning a full-scale offensive on workers and their standards of living. Fluent in doublespeak, Trump is able to posture as a friend of workers while in fact being a ruthless predator bent on the further evisceration of the working class. In that sense he’s not much different than other politicians.
However, it would be a grievous mistake to see Trump as more of the same when it comes to labor. Instead, a simple examination of his policies, and the key figures in his inner circle who will be crafting those policies, reveals an administration that is the most anti-worker in generations.
Rebuilding America or lining the pockets of the rich and powerful?
The first, and perhaps most striking, aspect of the meeting Trump had with labor leaders was the conspicuous absence of some of the largest and most powerful unions in the United States. The construction industry was well represented by groups including the Steamfitters and Ironworkers unions, Brotherhood of Carpenters, Sheet Metal Workers Union, among others. However, unions such as the American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, United Auto Workers, AFL-CIO, and many others were missing from the discussions.
An obvious indication that Trump has little interest in the working class as a whole, or even union workers broadly speaking, the meeting instead signaled that Trump intends to act as the real estate developer he’s always been, just on a larger scale.
By holding the meeting with such exclusivity, Trump demonstrated before the world that his plans to “Make America Great Again” include cronyism, condescension, and massive giveaways to super wealthy developers.
In a Jan. 24 interview with Sharmini Peries, economist and author Michael Hudson explained:
“[Trump’s] talked a lot about infrastructure and there are a lot of different ways of doing infrastructure. … [Trump] wants to cut back government spending and he wants to cut back taxation. So what I worry about is when he says, ‘I’m going to build infrastructure’ is that it means that he’s going to create a huge trillion-dollar market for Wall Street’s high finance.
They’re going to fund infrastructure by bondholders, and through private-public partnership, rail lines and transportation lines. Who are going to be the beneficiaries of this, and who’s going to pay for it all? If the government doesn’t pay for it, it’s going to be the bondholders and Wall Street. And the question is what is the cost of this transportation going to be, and who will be the main beneficiaries?”
Hudson correctly noted that despite the New Deal-style rhetoric, Trump’s plan will actually be a massive giveaway to Wall Street and to the barons of the construction industry — the same people Trump has gone golfing with, drank champagne with, and generally sleazed it up with for the last forty years. In effect, Trump’s plan would amount to a “bailout” for that sector of the economy that Trump has the most ties to, and a boon to investors and speculators.
As Hudson pointed out, Trump’s infrastructure plan, sold to the public as the process of “national renewal,” would essentially force the 99% to lend money to the 1% in order to build roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure. Put another way, it’s a covert form of bailout and austerity. Rather than an FDR-inspired national infrastructure and jobs program, Trump will implement crony capitalism on steroids.
If such self-serving investment implemented by a New York City real estate developer-turned-reality TV star-turned-president surprises you, I’ve got a grossly overpriced and poorly planned bridge to sell you.
Indeed, many economists and analysts are not buying what Trump is selling. Trump’s proposal would purportedly stimulate $1 trillion in the economy over the next ten years, with the federal government doling out tax credits to wealthy construction corporations and developers to the tune of $137 billion. According to the plan drawn up by Trump’s incoming secretary of commerce, the billionaire private equity investor Wilbur Ross, and Peter Navarro, a business professor at the University of California, Irvine, the tax credits would open the floodgates for additional private investment that would cover 82 percent of the equity needed for new projects. If this sounds like the most extreme kind of trickle-down economics, that’s because it is.
Moreover, as Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former economic adviser to Vice President Biden, correctly noted in a November piece for Politico Magazine:
“Since the plan depends on private investors, it can only fund projects that spin off user fees and are profitable. Rural roads, water systems, and public schools don’t fall into that category. Neither does public transit, which fails on the profitable criterion (it depends on public subsidies).”
And while Bernstein is by no means a radical — his economics is that of the traditional liberal quasi-Keynesian, quasi-neoliberal variety — his analysis is fundamentally correct in that Trump’s plan to revitalize America’s crumbling infrastructure will only extend as far as the profits for the mega-rich will allow.
The workers’ executioners
Though Trump’s infrastructure plan has been the focus of much of the talk, the depths of depravity to which the president and his coterie will go to gouge, squeeze, and crush workers really knows no bounds. Just a quick look at this rogue’s gallery of an economic team is enough to send even the most hardened worker into the fetal position.
Let’s begin with Steve Mnuchin, the incoming Treasury secretary. Mnuchin — a hedge fund ghoul whose credits include being a head honcho at Goldman Sachs, a close business associate of George Soros, a Hollywood producer, and all-around Wall Street degenerate responsible for more than 36,000 home foreclosures when he ran OneWest Bank — is the man Trump has tapped to be the nation’s top economic leader. The notion that this Wall Street insider who has run in the most elite circles of the 1% is somehow going to promote policies and fiscal actions that are going to benefit workers is a delusion worthy of serious psychiatric evaluation.
Joining Mnuchin in the ranks of Trump’s League of Extraordinary Exploiters is Andrew Puzder, The Donald’s candidate for Labor secretary. Puzder, the CEO of the massive CKE Restaurants chain which owns fast-food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., is infamous for his fierce opposition to an increase in the minimum wage (and his love affair with “beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis”).
Interestingly, Puzder rose to CEO of CKE after spending much of his career defending the mob in St. Louis. From 1978-1991 Puzder was the top trial lawyer in the firm owned by Morris A. Shenker, the man who Sally Denton and Roger Morris described in their book “The Money and the Power” as “a front man for the St. Louis Mob” and who Life magazine referred to as the “foremost lawyer for the mob in the U.S.”
Perhaps this mob connection was something Puzder and Trump shared over drinks and young, naked girls, as Trump was infamously connected to some of the most unsavory Mafia figures in New York and Philadelphia, including mob lawyer Roy Cohn, notorious mob boss Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, and other mafia figures such as Kenny Shapiro and Salvatore Testa, both known to be connected to Philadelphia mob boss Nicky Scarfo, as well as Manny Ciminello, a partner of Fat Tony Salerno’s in the concrete business.
These and myriad other mob connections were documented in detail in an unauthorized biography of Trump written by investigative journalist and longtime Trump nemesis Wayne Barrett. Sadly, Barrett passed away within hours of Trump’s inauguration (his death was due to a long battle with lung cancer).
Not to be forgotten is the aforementioned Wilbur Ross, Trump’s pick for Commerce secretary. Ross is a billionaire who made his fortune as the “king of bankruptcy” while leading Rothschild & Co.’s bankruptcy practice before forming his own private equity firm which was recently accused by the SEC of charging improper (read: illegal) fees to its investors, including pension funds.
Ross is one of the architects of Trump’s infrastructure plan to “Make America Great Again” with all the mention of empty, vacant factories, and devastated communities. One marvels at the irony: The man whose company bought up troubled factories in the Midwest and made them profitable by gouging workers through salary cuts, attacking their benefits and pensions, and generally turning a profit on the backs of desperate workers and communities, is now the point person charged with saving the working class.
The vampire squid enters the White House
As Pam and Russ Martens, the editors of the influential website Wall Street On Parade noted days before Trump’s inauguration, Goldman Sachs essentially runs the Trump administration, wielding even more influence than it had in Obama’s two terms in office.
Aside from Mnuchin, there’s Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist. Before becoming the guru of the far right via Breitbart News, he was a banker at Goldman Sachs. The sitting president of Goldman Sachs, Gary Cohn, has now been named director of the powerful policy-making body, the National Economic Council. Add to that Trump’s selection of Goldman Sachs lawyer Jay Clayton as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, essentially making him the top enforcement and regulatory officer for finance in the U.S. government.
It would not be a stretch to say that Goldman Sachs now effectively controls the U.S. government on the economic side, and with Reichsmarschall Bannon in Trump’s ear, in the White House, as well.
As for workers, those lucky enough to have a pension at all should consider how the the Trump administration is lurking in the shadows with a bucket of red paint, ready to slap a target right on their backs. As Pam and Russ Martens pointed out on Jan. 23, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will now be headed by Mnuchin, Puzder, and Ross — the three Cabinet secretaries designated to lead the body that guarantees corporate pension plans. Between these three, pensions will undoubtedly be under attack, and workers will be left with nothing but their eyes to cry with.
Of course, despite pretensions to the contrary, Trump is notoriously anti-union. His full-throated, unabashed support for right-to-work laws designed to effectively kill labor unions and drive down wages must be seen as a head-on assault on all workers and all unions. His xenophobic and racist rhetoric about undocumented immigrants belies the fact that he has no compunction about using them to drive down wages of workers in his employ.
Let us also not forget that Trump has vowed to cut regulations by 75 percent or more. While this may be music to the ears of CEOs and boards of directors, it could spell disaster for working people as things like environmental protections, workplace safety laws, and other vital legal protections will undoubtedly be gutted.
The fakest story ever told
President Trump has bloviated ad nauseam about the working class, and much of the media has followed suit, endlessly debating the appeal of the billionaire vulture to American workers.
But perhaps the discussion has been miscast; maybe it is not that Trump appealed to workers as much as workers appealed to Trump. It might just be that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rhetoric was simply another in a long series of con-jobs carried out by the Grifter-in-Chief on the backs of working men and women.
As with the serpent-devil in the Garden of Eden conniving to get Adam and Eve to taste the forbidden fruit, Trump convinced American workers to eat of his poisoned apple, knowing their desperate desire for a taste from the Tree of Prosperity.
Now, with Trump and his coterie of Wall Street demons surrounding him, American workers should prepare for their continued descent into hell.