Richard Trumka: It Was the Labor Movement That Built the Middle Class in America
It was nice to see CNN give some air time to someone besides the Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore who is a regular guest on their weekend show, Your Money and give the AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka some time to sound off on what we need to be doing to get Americans back to work and whether American workers can be competitive or not if we do something about the Chinese cheating on its currency and abusing child labor and prison labor laws.
Frankly, I found it pretty pitiful that Ali Velshi felt that he needed to turn to a labor leader to make the points that Trumka did here, rather than do his job as a so-called journalist and do some research into something other than how many potentially completely misinformed voters might think that unions somehow have too much influence over our politicians these days, as was the topic he chose to lead this interview with.
Regardless of Velshi's ridiculous framing of this segment, Trumka did a good job of pointing out that it was the labor movement that built the middle class in America to begin with and that we should look to a country like Germany if we want an example of a country that is looking out for the interest of their labor force, and that we should be looking to emulate what they are doing rather than the aversion that the right wing of America seems to have these days towards any type of protections in America's trade laws which right now reward shipping jobs overseas.
Trumka had some recommendations for what the White House could be doing to create jobs, but sadly due to primarily GOP obstruction in the House, most of what he recommended here will never be passed until we get this right wing House and their majority out of office and a few less DINO's in the Senate.
Transcript via CNN:
VELSHI: A majority of Americans give labor unions credit for improving wages and conditions for workers, that is according to a new Harris poll. But they also question whether members get their money's worth for the dues they pay, and think that labor unions are too involved in politics. Take a look at that.
Richard Trumka is the president of the AFL-CIO. He's and a member of President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competiveness.
Richard, thanks for being here. Let me ask you this. Some people say the success in getting what unions wanted for their members ended up hurting America's competiveness because we got unions manufacturing workers high workers great benefits and ended up not being as competitive, with outsourcing that work overseas. What's your response to that?
TRUMKA: First of all, that's ridiculous. It was the labor movements that built the middle class; it was the middle class that made America great. We were very, very competitive when the unions were at their heydays. We spread the wealth around to everybody so that the main driver of our economy, consumer spending, people have money in their pockets to spend. We help create jobs. We helped come to the table to create quality products. We retrain our members. Next year we'll train 40,000 new members and retrain 100,000 members in the new crafts of the green economy to make them more competitive.
VELSHI: I hear you, but maybe that's the issue, though. That you did all of those things -- unions did all those things, at a time when we didn't have protections for workers in a lot of other areas. Now it seems to be -- we seem to simplify this into saying we can manufacture a widget overseas for less money than we can in the United States, despite the fact that our workers have better conditions and better standards of living. It is a charge we have to figure out a way to answer.
TRUMKA: Well, Germany's answered that. They have a high-wage economy. They continue to produce things that they can export around the world. What we've done here is we've given up in many instances. We have bad trade laws, we have tax laws that reward people for moving jobs overseas. If we'd focus on manufacturing here and all of us coming together, labor, government and business, and business and labor all working together, we can compete with anybody in the world. Because if you don't compete, if you don't manufacture things, Ali, you can't compete in the global economy.
Remember, where the manufacturing goes, so does the research and development. All the new cutting-edge products will be moved overseas, rather than here, because they haven't focused on manufacturing.
VELSHI: Ultimately-and we've seen that happen. Ultimately, what is it we're likely to manufacture here in the United States that can be made into products that can be sold competitively around the world?
TRUMKA: We can make anything here. We can compete with anybody in the world if you give us a level playing field. Stop China from manipulating its currency. Stop them from not complying with their child labor laws, prison labor laws, and we're more than competitive.
VELSHI: If you did-
TRUMKA: We'd take those markets back from them.
VELSHI: If you did that, with China, you somehow figured out a away that we haven't politically figured out how to do, to get them to have their currency to float, and you got them to deal with child labor laws and all sorts of issues like that, ultimately there are going to be places in the world by virtue of their time and development that can still do things cheaper than America. America may not be able to assemble and build an iPhone as inexpensively as it can be done in Asia, even with rules.
TRUMKA: That that's true. If we have a comparative advantage, they ought to be able to get it. But they shouldn't be able to get the work because they manipulate their currency and cheat on all the rules. And we shouldn't reward them for moving jobs overseas, giving them tax breaks for doing it. There are things we can compete in, around the world in manufacturing. We could put a lot of people back to work and be the leader again if we decide to do it. We haven't decided to do it right now, because the lobby that you're dealing with -- and you actually portended, or you told your listeners that we're competing against China. We really aren't., you are competing against the same companies here, and in China.
TRUMKA: They move their factories there and compete against us.
VELSHI: I hear you.
TRUMKA: and they make a big profit.
VELSHI: In this economy, with this jobs situation, which is very important to you as a labor leader, it's hard to convince people that in the short term, insisting on tougher trade deals, and insisting on those places that manufacture the goods we by having higher standards, will end up costing us more for many of the goods we buy, electronics, clothes, all the things that we import.
TRUMKA: Ali, 78 percent of American people agree with me. They think the trade laws we have, have been bad. They haven't benefited this country.
VELSHI: Oh, I'm not disagreeing with you, but you will agree that-
TRUMKA: And we really should change them.
VELSHI: But it will increase costs.
TRUMKA: No, it doesn't have to increase costs. That's nonsense. It doesn't have to increase costs. We can compete with people. If they have a comparative advantage, they ought to be able to send products here that will help us. But if they're sending products here at a cheaper rate because they're cheating, it isn't cheaper. It lays Americans off. Taxpayers have to pay for the people that are laid off. We have to provide benefits for them. It's not cheaper. It's far more expensive. It's cheaper to have an economy that really is humming, producing things and sends products overseas, not jobs.
VELSHI: So normally when I get a good discussion like this, I say to somebody, if you have the ear of the president-except you do have the ear of the president. You are part of this council, the president's council on jobs and competitiveness. Has anything happened with that council?
TRUMKA: Not nearly enough. I think it has been timid. It needs to be more assertive. It needs to take positions on what needs to be done rather than what they think can be done. I think it needs to do more. Yesterday we had a very productive session in Dallas, Texas, on infrastructure, where everybody came together. Where business, labor and government all said, infrastructure has to be done, it has to be done at a big scale to make us competitive. And even though everybody agrees, nothing seems to be getting done because of the radical political games that are being played in the House of Representatives right now, by the Republicans.
VELSHI: What's your answer? What do you think President Obama can do next Thursday that will have the greatest effect on creating jobs in America?
TRUMKA: Several things. Large-scale reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Act. That's been a bipartisan issue for 40 years. All of a sudden, the Republicans want to cut 30 percent from the baseline that everybody knows is already half of what it should be. The FAA reauthorize it. Clean Water Act, reauthorize it. Send some aid to state and local governments so they don't continue to lay off people, and we can actually bring things together.
Target communities with high levels of unemployment with work. That would be the African-American communities, the Latino communities and communities around the country where the level of unemployment is real high. And we have to increase the amount -- or to help fill the hole in consumer demand. We have to continue to extend unemployment benefits so that 3 million workers don't stop spending and drag the economy down into the ground.
The last thing I would say is we have to regulate Wall Street to prevent them from going back to the things they did before that brought this economy down to begin with.
VELSHI: Richard Trumka, good to have you on the show, as always. Thanks for joining us.
TRUMKA: Thanks, Ali. Thanks for having me on.
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