Labor Unions Fight For Relevance, While Candidates Petition Directly To Workers

“Blue-Collar Vote Key for Trump Win,” said the front page of The Wall Street Journal Monday morning. While this may be the case, labor unions are preparing to actively support the eventual Democratic nominee.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has amassed around two dozen national union endorsements, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders securing five. Notably, however, the AFL-CIO, the country’s major union federation, is yet to endorse either candidate and is unlikely to do so any time soon.

Some have characterized the AFL-CIO’s decision not to endorse as a win for Sanders. The move highlights the growing rift between union rank-and-file, which connects with Sanders’ messages of inequality and international trade agreements (not to mention Trump’s populist inventions), and union leadership, which views Clinton as the best chance for a Democrat to remain in the White House.

Side-stepping an endorsement hasn’t stemmed the federation’s political pursuits. Following its winter meeting in San Diego, the campaigns department announced that it would create a super PAC geared toward energizing voter turnout.



Though expected to raise tens of million of dollars, the labor-run PAC will be a far cry from the hundreds of millions sitting on the sidelines for the GOP, most visibly embodied in the Koch brothers’ pledge to spend $889 million this cycle.

Beyond unions themselves, blue-collar workers are becoming a key demographic in the presidential race. Union membership has declined significantly over the past few decades and the usually left-leaning unions have steadily lost clout in the growing number of Right to Work states around the country.

This will particularly be the case in the Rust Belt, where Trump has the best chance to secure the nomination.

The deterioration of the powers unions had in their collective bargaining rights allows space for other organizations, i.e. political campaigns, to engage potential voters. Sanders and Trump have done just that, Sanders with his focus on inequality and animosity toward the corporate class -- Trump with xenophobia and catchy idioms.

Trump has done particularly well in the early primaries and caucuses with white working-class voters, while Sanders has done less well. He has made large inroads with the white blue-collar demographic. As both candidates attest, there is overlap in support between the two, and that most likely lies with the working class.  

Red, White & Blog spoke with WorkJam COO Joshua Ostrega, who noted that “the minimum wage isn’t the only part of the discussion that needs attention. There are a number of qualitative changes that can be made to improve the conditions and rights of workers.”

Trade, welfare, inequality and immigration will weigh heavily on American workers’ minds. Differences also exist between white and minority members of the working class. Despite Trump’s success with white blue-collar voters, unions and workers will be integral to Democratic success in November.

Former AFL-CIO political director, Steve Rosenthal explained: “For the Democratic nominee, the labor movement is the most effective tool after the candidate’s own campaign.”

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