PHILADELPHIA (PAI) -- Barack Obama wasn't the only president who addressed the shrunken ranks of U.S. House Democrats when they retreated to Philadelphia late last month to lick their wounds from last November's election and plan party strategy. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka did, too – and he didn't pull punches. He offered initial praise, then a tongue-lashing.
Trumka told the Dems workers and their allies to seek a “coherent economic message.” The AFL-CIO is rolling one out. The party must do so, too, he declared
“Frankly, Democratic leaders have a problem, a big problem," Trumka said. "Our polling shows a lot of union voters -- about one-third -- don't see much of a difference between the two parties on issue after issue after issue. They tell us both parties side with the wealthy over working people and are too close to big corporations. And neither party, they say, cares deeply enough about creating jobs, or raising wages, or even protecting Social Security or Medicare, for that matter.
“In fact, 80 percent of Democratic and Republican union members alike say politicians of both parties do far too much to support Wall Street's financial interests, and not nearly enough to help average folks.
“That's what people think. It's a perception. Some might call it a skewed perception, but it's not enough for us to tell people to feel differently. We have to show them, clearly and plainly and again and again and again, with a powerful economic plan for shared prosperity.”
Trumka's remarks square with what many Democratic leaders, notably their chief Senate messenger, New York's Charles Schumer, are saying. And in the run-up to last November's blowout, other analysts say, the Democrats flunked.
After lauding many shared specific goals between workers, unions and the Democrats – raising the minimum wage, higher taxes on corporate profits, comprehensive immigration reform, and family and medical leave among them – Trumka took the same tack.
Saying pro-worker lawmakers were replaced by “people who aren't friendly,” Trumka reminded the Dems the year was even tougher “for everyone who counts on a paycheck.” The AFL-CIO's poll of swing-state voters on Election Day showed 54 percent said their families' income had fallen in real terms. Only 8 percent said it went up. Income for everyone else was flat.
“As I see it, these numbers tell you everything you need to know about the 2014 election, and why so many people are losing faith in politics. This year, 2015, offers us a chance to answer skepticism with real vision, a strong and broad economic plan. We need that now -- voters need that now -- before the 2016 elections," Trumka said.
After citing more AFL-CIO poll findings: 3-to-1 majorities in favor of taxing overseas corporate profits and increasing money for public schools, and 2-to-1 for higher Social Security benefits, he declared: “Those same voters didn't hear that loudly enough from enough Democrats.”
So Trumka challenged the party to “show who you clearly are” and “draw a sharp distinction, a clear and bright line, between you and the party on the other side of the aisle.”
That means creating an agenda similar to what unions and their allies unveiled at an early January wage summit to push nationwide, starting in key 2016 presidential primary and caucus states: Raising all workers' wages, not just the minimum wage, restoring overtime pay, respect for public workers, and strengthening collective bargaining.
“We need to raise wages all up and down the labor market -- and that requires the ability to bargain,” Trumka declared. He acknowledged that this session of Congress has the fewest House Democrats since before the Great Depression. He said promoting fair trade and eliminating fast track trade authority are good ways to start. “We won't get a lot of what we want this year. But now is the time to lay the groundwork for a new progressive majority, and you must show us what you will do by taking action on the things you can do.”
Trumka also warned the Dems about other Republican initiatives they must strongly oppose, notably – but not limited to – worker safety and public health. And it's time for the Dems to once again strongly push for strengthening labor law, he declared.
“Each and every worker in America must have that right to bargain for higher wages without fear. We don't. We need real labor law reform, so we ourselves can provide upward pressure on wages, on all wages, by sitting down across the table with our employers. It's fair. It's right. And it's good for America and our economy.”