BALTIMORE (PAI) - Democrats, especially congressional Democrats, need a coherent and down-to-earth economic message, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says.
And it’s a message, he adds, that must successfully counter simplistic notions pushed by the congressional GOP and the hatred of minorities and Muslims pushed by several leading Republican presidential hopefuls, notably business tycoon Donald Trump, he adds.
Trumka brought his criticism of the Democrats’ message – actually, lack of it – to the House Democrats’ retreat in Baltimore at the end of January. He praised party members for sticking with workers to beat back anti-labor measures fostered by Congress’ ruling Republicans. But he said that’s not enough to win workers to their sides in this year’s election.
“In too many races,” in the 2014 off-year election, “the Democratic candidate lacked a coherent economic message that made sense to regular working people – union and non-union,” Trumka said. “This is not about casting blame. It’s about working together and finding solutions so we can better communicate with our shared constituents.”
The AFL-CIO, he admitted, sometimes lost the message war, too, so it’s “been looking for new ways to reach out to America...to union, non-union, and never-heard-of-union” people.
The fed’s extensive messaging research shows values, not policies, move most people, he said. On policy, the U.S. majority agrees with labor’s positions on good wages, affordable health care and retirement security. But they don’t feel values behind those stands.
And “as long as life isn’t getting better for regular people, the Democratic Party and America’s labor unions leave the door open for the right-wing to beat us in the messaging war.
“We have good ideas – but we don’t always know how to articulate them, and too often, we don’t put them into action. And sometimes we are so used to talking to each other that we forget how everyday people receive messages,” Trumka criticized.
That leaves the door open to the right’s multi-million dollar campaign against workers, unions and government and for lower taxes and “a deceitful narrative about work and the economy. We need to come together and fight back with plain language of our own, and then we need to show the truth behind what we’re talking about,” he declared.
The union leader had no easy slogans for that plain language. But he did have policy prescriptions behind it: The planks of labor’s “Raise The Wage” campaign.
That campaign includes raising the minimum wage, establishing and enforcing pay equity, enacting paid family and medical leave, strengthening worker rights and labor law, comprehensive immigration reform, restoring voting rights and more.
“Let’s provide an aspirational call to a better life that goes beyond purely financial issues, and let’s do it without relying on Beltway-speak,” Trumka urged the Dems. “It’s about children and families and hopes and dreams. We need to describe real experiences instead of political abstractions.” He gave several simple examples:
• “In Washington, it’s called ‘wage theft.’ On Main Street, (it’s) ‘The boss stole my money.’”
• ‘Paid leave’ means ‘more money in the bank and more time to spend with your family.’
• ‘Wall Street reform’ means ‘protecting your house and savings from corporate greed.’”
Putting issues in a way that appeals to Main Street will advance the cause of workers, Trumka said. That’s because, he reminded the Dems, “human beings, on purpose,” caused the economic problems besetting workers. Those causes include deregulation, corporate destruction of workers and unions, and jobs-losing trade treaties, among others, he explained.
Some Democrats were at fault, he noted, by supporting NAFTA, CAFTA and presidential trade authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other similar pacts.
But all that is “the process” and “we need to focus on the outcomes,” he said.
“This new message research isn’t a silver bullet. But it will help us build long-term power for working people. There is a grassroots movement emerging…Working people have progressed from identifying the problem to proactively addressing it. And we are doing it with two simple words: Raising wages.”