Labor Leaders Deserve Their Share of the Blame for Donald Trump’s Victory

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By Micah Uetricht
In These Times
Noember 10, 2016

Donald Trump is going to be the next president of the United States. I feel a wild urge to scrub my hands with steel wool and bleach after typing those words—my fingers feel filthy.

If we want to avoid a similar nightmare in the future, we have to parse this election’s lessons and figure out who is to blame—not for cheap point-scoring, but to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again. That means we have to talk about how American union leaders helped hand this race to Trump.

It wasn't on purpose, of course. It’s no secret that a Trump presidency will be absolutely disastrous for labor. A national right-to-work law, Wisconsin's viciously anti-union Gov. Scott Walker as Secretary of Labor, a pro-corporate National Labor Relations Board—all could be in the cards under Trump.

Union leaders wanted to prevent this. But their idea for how to do so wasn't any different from the rest of the Democratic Party establishment: going all-in for a centrist, "safe" candidate like Hillary Clinton at a time when the electorate was hungry for someone who would shake up the political system and who spoke to the pain so many Americans feel.

Labor leaders should have been in touch with this sentiment better than anyone. Their members—whether school teachers in big cities or laid-off factory workers in the Rust Belt—have suffered immensely in the age of austerity. There were warning signs. Unions haven’t released their own internal polling data, but Working America said in January that Trump’s anti-free trade message was resonating in Ohio and Pennsylvania, states hit particularly hard by deindustrialization. On Election Day, exit polls varied widely, but many showed union households voting for Clinton by either slim margins (CNN put it at just 51 percent) or by nowhere near as large a margin as they did for Barack Obama in 2012. 

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