Interview with Gene Bruskin, long-time union organizer, co-founder of U.S. Labor Against the War

Question: What is your reaction to the Trump address to the joint session of Congress?

Gene Bruskin: Up till now, Trump has shot himself in the foot with his outrageous politics and demeanor. That has helped us. But his Feb. 28 address to Congress was more polished; it disguised the insidious agenda that he is proposing.

Trump’s call for a massive $54 billion military buildup is appalling and unacceptable. He is explicitly taking the money from the public sector and social programs to fund the military buildup: Public libraries, social services, Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Endowment of the Arts (which funds community theaters in places as far away as Nebraska), and so much more are going to be shut down.

Trump’s “America First” is going to put American working people last, but it’s not just American workers who are targeted; everybody around the world is targeted. His domestic policies are linked to his war policies abroad. On both fronts, Trump is determined to resolve all matters through force and violence. On the home front, it’s with more cops and more ICE agents; on the international front, it’s with more guns and military bases.

Trump thinks he can run the country and the world like he runs a corporation. If you express any disagreements, you’re out. It’s frightening.

Trump has managed to present the United States — the richest and most militarized country in the world — as the victim of the rest of the world. He has turned everything on its head. This is how, for example, he can justify his goal, not abandoned, of seizing Iraqi oil.

Question: What should the labor movement do about it?

height-200-no_border-width-2001Bruskin: This is a crisis moment for the labor movement, which totally tied its aspirations to a failed party: the Democratic Party. Labor is now everyone for themselves. It is far from clear that anyone is listening to what [AFL-CIO President Richard] Trumka has to say.

The Building Trades are severely compromised. Not only did they turn their backs on the rest of the labor movement, they turned their backs on labor’s allies. They met with Trump, who put his arm around them all, only to punch them in the ribs.

These unions think they’re going to get good union jobs from Trump on pipelines or infrastructure. Think again. What they’re going to get is more deregulation, a federal “right-to-work” law, and the elimination of Project Labor Agreements and Davis Bacon [paying local prevailing wages on federal public works program — Editors].

Trump may create jobs, but it won’t be jobs that working families can live on. There will be a huge shift to private companies that hire non-union labor. All you have to do is look at Trump’s cabinet. It is filled with billionaires whose wealth came from deregulation, cheap labor, privatization, and massive speculation — all at workers’ expense. We’re paying for their wealth.

The unions that supported Bernie Sanders are talking to each other. They need to develop a counter-pole around a platform of demands that could include the fight for a $15 minimum wage, infrastructure (but the massive public works program that we want (rebuilding schools, public transportation, road, bridges, national parks with union labor at union scale), Single Payer, no more deportations, union rights, etc.

Question: May First is just around the corner. Shouldn’t this be a Day Without Workers, in addition to being a Day Without Immigrants?

Bruskin: Yes, absolutely. In the spring of 2006, when I was organizing workers at the Smithfield packing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, the workers walked into the office and announced they had decided to close the plant. And they did it. The bosses couldn’t retaliate. They needed these workers and couldn’t take any action against them all.

[This was when millions of immigrant workers and their allies were marching in cities across the country to oppose the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill — Editors]

What is hopeful is that there has been an unprecedented response and protests across the country from many thousands of people from all walks of life to object to Trump and what he represents. People are in motion and saying NO to sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, rule by billionaires, cutting healthcare, and the entire Trump agenda. The challenge for the left it to help organize the outrage.

U.S. Labor Against the War Statement on Trump Budget (excerpts)

U.S. Labor Against the War condemns in the strongest terms President Trump’s call upon Congress to increase the country’s military budget by nearly 10% in the coming fiscal year while dramatically reducing the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of State, and virtually every other function of government that serves human needs and the machinery of peace.

The U.S. military already spends more than the next eight countries’ military spending combined. We condemn the priorities President Trump’s budget proposal reflects.

We organize our opposition on the basis of values that have nothing in common with the values Trump’s priorities embody.

We call on working people everywhere to oppose this budget proposal and all it represents.

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