Trump’s war on workers

1
Edvard Munch - Workers on their Way Home - Google Art Project.jpg
Wikimedia Commons

Trump proclaims himself the savior of the screwed-over “forgotten men and women” of the working class. Every day, he hogs the media spotlight with his tweets and poses as an anti-establishment guy who defies all authority and decorum.

When Trump went to the Davos summit of the global capitalist elite, a New York Times reporter portrayed him as an outsider “kid from Queens.” Actually Trump grew up a spoiled rich kid who became a tycoon with a global branding empire based in nearly two-dozen countries on four continents. He has been a rather lousy businessman, who was rescued from disasters by his dad in the early days and then later was helped out by strangely altruistic Russian oligarchs and mobsters.

The mainstream media portrays him as a rude Archie Bunker, but it would be helpful if they paid more attention to how he has been pursuing an agenda that rigs the economy to make life worse for ordinary Americans.

In his first year, Trump — with the assistance of the Republican-controlled Congress — launched an unprecedented attack on rules and regulations protecting workers. A recent report by the Economic Policy Center (EPI) details the deregulatory actions that favored corporate interests and the wealthy at the expense of workers’ health, safety and pay.

These include the Trump administration’s Department of Labor’s refusal to defend a hard-won rule extending overtime protections to more workers. In 2016, the DOL raised the salary threshold below which workers are automatically eligible for overtime pay to $47,476. This gave 12.5 million people new or strengthened overtime protections.

The threshold hadn’t been adequately updated in the last few decades. The percentage of full-time salaried workers who were automatically eligible for overtime based on their pay dropped from more than 60 percent in 1975 to less than 7 percent in 2016.

The EPI report notes: “Prior to the 2016 rule, low-level managers at retail and fast-food outlets who made only $23,660 a year — lower than the poverty rate for a family of four — could be required to work long hours without any extra pay for the extra hours worked.”

This rule was enacted by the Obama administration’s DOL but it was blocked in the courts by corporate interests. Trump’s DOL has said it won’t defend the rule.

Last December, Trump’s DOL proposed a rule change that will allow restaurant owners and supervisors to legally take tips earned by their employees. Bloomberg Law reported that the DOL deliberately suppressed their own analysis of the proposed tip rule from the public, after they discovered that employers would skim billions of dollars from their workers every year. The EPI conducted an analysis of the rule and found that tipped workers will lose $5.8 billion a year, $4.6 billion of which will be stolen from women.

Last December, Trump appointed two new members to the National Labor Relations Board, giving its first pro-management majority in eight years (that is, since the George W. Bush administration). Within 48 hours, the new board released a whirlwind of decisions, which undid a number of pro-worker rulings set by the Obama board.

In its most important ruling, the board overturned a 2015 decision that had made it easier for unions and workers to hold companies accountable for the practices of contractors and franchisees. Labor activists with “Fight for 15” saw the Obama-era labor standard as the key to its fast-food unionization campaign. Corporations such as McDonald’s and its allied lobbying groups, like the National Restaurant Association (the other NRA) and International Franchise Association were on the other side.

On labor, there is a clear difference between the two parties. Labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein has said, “When Democrats are in power, Republicans try to starve the Department of Labor and NLRB. When they get into power, they don’t want to starve it anymore. They want their people in it.”

“At the NLRB, there is no middle ground. Precedent means nothing,” Lichtenstein added. “It totally switches back and forth now.”

However, as Thea Lee has put it, working people and the labor movement can’t just say, “If only we could elect the Democrats.” Lee, an economist for the AFL-CIO (American’s largest federation of unions) for two decades, told Splinter that we need significant political, cultural and institutional change.

Lee is the new president of the Economic Policy Institute. She is determined to continue fighting. She says there has been “a really vicious but brilliant exploitation” of growing economic inequality “to create racial and other divisions within the working class.”

She argues:

“At the end of the day, if you look at who the big beneficiaries are of the recent tax reform bill, it does feel like the investor class not just tolerated Donald Trump, but was complicit in that trend because they saw that there was a personal and class benefit. They couldn’t win fair and square — an establishment Republican like Mitt Romney wasn’t able to win an election, but the toxic sludge of racist, xenophobic, fake populist rhetoric succeeded where the Republican establishment, Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable had failed.”

Nevertheless, it seems this idiotic fascist circus is getting tiresome. People want a genuine inclusive populism.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.