The President's Column: Workers Are the Key to a More Perfect UnionDecember 9, 2019
The best of our nation is made possible through our collective strength.
I don’t know about you but I’m tired of the media describing President Trump’s base as the white working class. For one thing, we know that his real base is Wall Street—the oil, chemical, mining, and timber interests who make up the billionaire class to whom he and his Republican congressional cronies gave away $1.5 trillion dollars in our taxes last year. And, for another, polls show that Trump voters in 2016 had an average annual income of $90,000. The whole concept of working class being synonymous with white is a myth. The working class in these United States is multiracial and multinational, and has always been that way. Visit any auto factory, steel mill, or coal mine, and it’s quite clear.
Three years after Trump’s election, it is now obvious to all that his entire worldview, political strategy, and method of rule is one of sowing division among the American people— and especially among workers—using racism, religious bias, misogyny, and xenophobia as his weapons. He’s hardly the first to do so, but he is the first President to do it in such an open way since Woodrow Wilson promoted the Ku Klux Klan a century ago.
When I was growing up, it was common adult wisdom that “you can’t fight city hall.” This was pretty convenient for those in city hall. There’s truth in the idea that individuals (at least those of us who aren’t part of the 1%) have little strength fighting the powers that be. But in 1199SEIU, we know that we do have strength to confront city hall or the White House when we are united. The entire purpose of a union is to use our collective strength to win gains that benefit all our families on the job and in our communities.
“There’s never been a moment in my lifetime when maintaining our unity has been so essential. When I say our unity, I’m talking about within our union, with our coalition partners, and with the working class.”
There’s never been a moment in my lifetime when maintaining our unity has been so essential. When I say our unity, I’m talking about within our union, with our coalition partners, and with the working class. With his daily Twitter incitements, white supremacist rallies, stacking the courts with far right extremists, and executive orders criminalizing immigrants (including children), Donald Trump has launched an unending campaign to divide us.
The notion of a united country is embedded in the very foundation of the United States. The first words of our Constitution are, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union...” Though the Constitution’s ratification 232 years ago pertained only to white men of property, at least some of the founders understood that the new union was a work in progress. They knew this country would need a lot more perfecting, even as it grew vast wealth founded on the enslavement and murder of millions of Africans who were treated like work animals.
Seventy years later, Abraham Lincoln, fully aware of the U.S. as a work in progress, fought to hold the country together. In his first inaugural address, Lincoln appealed to America’s “better angels” to again strive for a more perfect union. The Southern slavocracy responded by declaring war on the United States. Their actions resulted in the Civil War deaths of 650,000 soldiers, in a country with a total population of 32 million at the time. During the same era, the United States declared war on Mexico, launching the largest land grab in history, and forcibly annexing what would become Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and California. And under slaveholding President Andrew Jackson, the U.S. committed the wholesale genocide of the indigenous peoples of this country, reducing their numbers from 10 million to less than 1 million in the 19th century.
A more perfect union indeed. But two and a half centuries later, a young man from Hawaii named Barack Hussein Obama would come to personify how our multiracial country was built and remind us not only of the enormous price paid in blood and bodies, but also of the possibilities that still exist within it. Nearly a century and a half after the Civil War, he launched an improbable presidential campaign, themed on a collective effort to build a more perfect union, empowered and guided by our better angels.
The point of all of this is to say that we are always being tested. Freedom is indeed a constant struggle—that is nothing that we 1199ers do not know. But as Frederick Douglass argued more than a century ago, power concedes nothing without a struggle; it never has and it never will. The key to all of our past and future victories is our unity. Without it, we are powerless.
As our sisters and brothers in Latin America say, “¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” The people united will never be defeated.