Interview with Nancy Wohlforth, Secretary-Treasurer Emerita, OPEIU
Question: What is your reaction to the Trump address to the joint session of Congress?
Nancy Wohlforth: I am absolutely appalled. Trump announced that he was seeking an additional $54 billion for war spending, but this figure could go as high as $84 billion according to reports published the day after his address to Congress.
And what a cruel joke to make us think we will be more secure. That’s one of Trump’s biggest lies. Not to mention that this military buildup will be at the expense of vital social programs.
If one were to believe Trump — and, alas, too many people actually do — the United States is under attack from hoards of enemies both internal and external. So we must circle the wagons, build a wall on our border, arm our military to the teeth, and militarize our police (or so he told the CEOs at the White House).
But the exact opposite is true. It’s our government that is intervening in country after country, establishing military bases around the world, and funding invasions. Trump’s military buildup will only make us less secure.
Trump would also have us believe — another outrageous lie — that the reason workers are out of jobs, especially good jobs with benefits, is that the corporations are taxed at rates much higher than anywhere else in the world. So his answer is to cut corporate tax rates even further, so that their tax breaks will supposedly jump-start the economy and jobs will trickle down.
The fact is, as Bernie Sanders pointed out in his rebuttal to Trump’s address, that U.S. corporations pay little or no taxes. Based on real facts, not Trump’s “alternative facts,” Sanders demonstrated that $100 billion in taxes are lost every year because Big Business doesn’t pay its fair share of taxes.
Trump talked about cleaning out the swamp of Wall Street banksters. Another cruel joke:
He put them all in his cabinet to further deregulate the financial industry and pave the way for another major financial crisis.
It’s appalling that Trump is allowed to turn things on their head. He makes one outrageous statement after the other, and those who do the fact-checking, unfortunately, don’t get the kind of media attention they should be getting.
Question: What should the labor movement do about it?
Wohlforth: It must denounce the military buildup, expose the lies, and join the hundreds of thousands of activists in the streets — in labor contingents — to oppose all of Trump’s reactionary agenda.
Unfortunately, the labor movement has failed to do this, with a few notable exceptions. I was astonished that [AFL-CIO President Richard] Trumka did not even mention the military buildup and the need to move the money toward jobs and social services in his various TV interviews the day after Trump’s address to Congress.
Most important, the labor movement as a whole should be campaigning for Medicare For All (aka Single Payer healthcare). Yes, we must defend the gains that were contained in the Affordable Care Act, but, as we all know, the Act itself had many serious flaws. And it is not what we all truly want and need — which is Medicare For All.
Here is the perfect opportunity, when there is a heated discussion nationwide about how to solve this healthcare crisis, as well as huge openings to push forward new solutions, to launch a nationwide campaign for a real and lasting solution: Medicare For All. It is frustrating beyond belief that the top leadership of the labor movement is not agitating around this issue day and night.
Mind you, a few good statements have been issued by the AFL-CIO. One example is the statement issued jointly with the Canadian Labor Congress denouncing the travel ban against the seven countries with a Muslim majority. Also, labor did pull out all stops to try and stop the nomination of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But there needs to be more resolve, more mobilizations, more independent action.
And there cannot be backtracking from positions held by our movement — be it in relation to the Dakota pipeline or the fight to defend undocumented immigrants.
Trump is now calling for a mass infrastructure project — which is one of labor’s traditional demands. Well, the labor movement should immediately explain what kind of infrastructure program we need to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges, dams and more — with union jobs, at union scale. We must formulate our demands clearly and fight like hell to ensure that our demands are met.
Question: May First is just around the corner. Shouldn’t this be a Day Without Workers, in addition to being a Day Without Immigrants?
Wohlforth: Absolutely. In whatever form it takes, the labor movement should be in motion alongside all our community partners.