Above, a screenshot of Trump campaigning in West Virginia, 2016
See earlier by Kathy Knechtges: Donald Trump, Kennedy Democrats, And The Ghost Of Jimmy Hoffa and by Peter Brimelow, Goodbye, Gompers—If Webb Can’t Focus Democrats On White Working Class, Nobody Can
When the International Association of Firefighters endorsed Joe Biden for president in early May 2019, President Donald Trump hosed down the union on Twitter: “I’ve done more for Firefighters than this dues sucking union will ever do, and I get paid ZERO!”
I’ve done more for Firefighters than this dues sucking union will ever do, and I get paid ZERO! https://t.co/Tw0qwTiUD6— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2019
Former Secret Service agent and talking head Dan Bongino agreed:, “NONE of the Firemen I know are supporting Joe Biden for President”—a sentiment provoking enough positive Twitter reaction for Trump to retweet six dozen examples [Trump retweets dozens of people taking issue with a firefighters union’s endorsement of Biden, by John Wagner, The Washington Post, May 1, 2019]. Which raises a Labor Day question: Do union leaders represent their membership? Because union leadership has placed itself squarely in the camp of Open Borders Democrats who hate the Historic American Nation.
I asked my friend “George H.,” a Third-Generation union tradesman and a conservative 40-year union member, to decode today’s Leftist union madness.. He told: “The union leadership is Democrats first and union men second.”
It appears Trump’s support is solid among union members, said George H., whose brother “worked in Ohio for three years and never heard a bad word about Trump.” Indeed, “all the tradesmen are solid for Trump, all the appointed union are anti. Twenty years they bitched about NAFTA, now Trump is fighting it. Where the hell is the union leadership?”
As for the difference between the private- and public-sector unions, George H. says that the latter
…are completely run by the most radical elements in our society. What unions favor illegal immigration? Only the public employee unions. When I swore into the AFL-CIO, part of the oath was I am not now, nor will I ever become, a member of the Communist Party, LOL! Now the radicals would send us all to reeducation camps if they could.
But union leaders didn’t always side with Open Borders and illegal-alien anarchy. A short American history lesson: Consider the conflict in the early 1900s between the bookish, conservative, immigration-restrictionist Samuel Gompers, and one-eyed, save-the-world socialist Big Bill Haywood.
Gompers, a Jewish immigrant born in London in 1850, started rolling cigars at 11. He flourished in the vast educational and social opportunities of New York City and eventually saw that unions could better his lot. His union cigarmakers were so expert that they could talk, sing and listen to readings while working, as he recalled in his autobiography Seventy Years of Life and Labor.
Gompers spent much of his next 50 years nurturing the American Federation of Labor. He witnessed a new flood of unassimilated immigrants in America, many with communist views. “We immediately realized that immigration is in its fundamental aspects, a labor problem,” he said. [Life And Labor, P. 163]
Shock! In later years, the Gompers-led AFL even disliked Roosevelt and his New Deal (except for FDR’s making it easier to unionize) [Commonsense Anticommunism, by Jennifer Luff 2012].
Gompers’ AFL thought Roosevelt’s labor officials were naive idealists who had no union experience, and that the labor board attracted documented Communists. The AFL also suspected New Deal officials favored the new, more radical Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) over the AFL. After many years of dealing with such socialists and communists, Gompers summarized his conclusions in his autobiography:
I want to tell you, Socialists that I have studied your philosophy.… I have heard your orators and watched the work of your movement the world over. I have kept close watch upon your doctrines for 30 years; have been closely associated with many of you and know how you think and what you propose. I know, too, what you have up your sleeve. And I want to say that I am entirely at variance with your philosophy. I declare it to you, I am not only at variance with your doctrines, but with your philosophy. Economically, you are unsound; socially you are wrong; industrially you are an impossibility. [Life And Labor, P. 117]
As proof, Gompers pointed to the Soviet Utopia that had produced failure, brutality, and compulsory labor. In 1921, Gompers could boast his union’s efforts over three decades had helped it “become a permanent factor in industrial organization.” AFL statistics showed that the average life span of the cigarmakers he represented had been increased!
Contrast Gompers with Big Bill Haywood, a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies. Haywood started mine work in his native Utah when he was about 9 years old. He lost the sight in one eye while carving a slingshot, and later worked on a farm and was a cowboy. Cowboy life was not the joyous adventure life of cheap novels, he found, but was lonely and bleak. [Bill Haywood's book—the autobiography of William D. Haywood, 1929]
Haywood eventually landed in a Utah lead mine. “There were men going to and coming from the hospital all the time suffering from lead poisoning,” Haywood wrote. “A crowd of lead miners presents a ghastly appearance, as their faces are ashen pale.”
Learning about unions from a fellow miner, Haywood saw hope for his future. He got involved with union organizing. He wrote about the 1892 Coeur d’Alene Labor Strike, which led to the imprisonment of a thousand miners in a two-story wooden bullpen for more than six months. With no sanitation, excrement dripped on the men jailed on the first floor, causing vermin, disease and death.
An Indian’s tale of a massacre by whites convinced Hayward that such evils
…began when the earliest settlers stole Manhattan Island. It continued across the continent. The ruling class with glass beads, bad whiskey, Bibles and rifles continued the massacre from Astor Place to Astoria.
Significantly, Haywood was an Open Borders radical. He called a strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the greatest-ever, because the participants spoke 27 languages. “To the working class there is no foreigner but the capitalist,” he wrote. He complained that foreign workers coming to the United States could not become citizens for five years. He decried a government raid of suspected Communist immigrants in 1920, which caused hundreds to be deported to their native lands as “a whole shipload leaving the land of liberty.”
Gompers and Haywood were both committed union leaders—but they were not brothers in arms.
Gompers thought Haywood and his ilk “a radical fungus on the labor movement”. [Life And Labor, p. 127]
This inspired Gompers to cooperate with government authorities. Individuals and unions proven to be Communist were tossed out of the AFL. A quarter-century after Gompers’ death, even the CIO expelled 11 affiliated unions for Communist ties.
In what today would be considered heinous free speech violations, Wobblies were arrested just for speaking against WWI under the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918. More than a hundred were convicted—including Haywood.
Facing 20 years in prison, he jumped bail and fled to the Soviet Union. The Soviets welcomed him and put him to work. He died there in 1928.
In contrast, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Gompers to the Council of National Defense, an advisory commission “to coordinate industries and resources for the national security and welfare” during World War I, and “to investigate and make recommendations regarding the availability, production, and increase of war supplies and transportation” [Council of National Defense: a little-known or appreciated WWI agency, by Greg Bradsher, The United States World War One Centennial Commission].
Gompers died in 1924, the lifelong leader of a conservative American union movement. He was instrumental in creating a large, prosperous middle class such as that in the Midwest, which Donald Trump is trying to restore and which handed him the 2016 election. Ohio and Michigan delivered him 34 electoral votes.
Which brings the discussion back to Trump’s squabble with the IAFF. My union source, George H., explained that Trump can drive a wedge between the Democrats and unions by focusing on the threats that Democrats, particularly young radicals such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, pose to rank-and-file union members.
One threat is “enviro-fascism,” as George H. calls it.
“Green jobs of the future = screw the unions,” he said. “This is a great wedge Trump drives into the Democrats.”
“Democrats voted to kill Alaska oil drilling which cost hundreds of thousands of jobs,” George H. continued. “But the unions did not punish the Democrats. Many Democratic politicians harmed unions by voting to destroy their jobs. Thus, they harmed the unions more than Republican politicians did.”
But, he says. Democrats also “screw the unions” in refusing to block illegal immigration, lower legal immigration, and in fighting Trump on the border wall. More immigration means lower wages—which is why union leaders should back Trump.
Yet in 2016, just two labor unions did so: the Fraternal Order of Police and National Border Patrol Council. Both are heavily invested in the linked issues of immigration control and law-and-order that Trump used to defeat Clinton.
(IAFF had backed Clinton, by the way, but then reneged because its rank-and-file protested, a sign all that hope isn’t lost [Firefighters’ Union Backs Away From Endorsement of Hillary Clinton, by Noam Scheiber and Amy Chozick, The New York Times, October 5, 2015]).
The key thing, George H. observed, for Trump to remember is that union leaders don’t represent the rank-and file.
“We don’t get to vote on the union leadership,” he told me. “We elect local leaders who come and go. If a Lefty leader loses a position at the local level, they appoint him to the international. The union leadership lives in a bubble, insulated from the shop floor. Most union employees also are not as aware of what is really going on as I am.”
Of course that’s true. But most union employees do know what’s in their checkbook and who what threatens their jobs.
Which is why, George H. continued, “the rank and file revolted against the liberal union leadership at the ballot box by voting for Trump.”
“Trump needs to punch and punch hard,” George H. said. “And not just for the union man. For the country.
“No matter what the union bosses think, for the rank-and-file, Trump is a gift from God.”
Kathy Knechtges [Email her] is a writer who lives on the Great Lakes and specializes in working people, spirituality and the family.
Previous Labor Day coverage, back to 2001.