Leaders of the New York construction trades encouraged attacks on anti-war protesters following Kent State, 1970.
Naomi Klein has written a column in today’s NY Times calling attention to the disturbing scene of skilled trade union leaders meeting and applauding Trump.
A new administration can always count on many organizations to issue pro forma statements expressing a nonpartisan willingness to work with the new leader. Let’s be clear: This was not that. This was a new alliance. As Terry O’Sullivan, head of Laborers’ International Union of North America, put it on MSNBC: “The president’s a builder. We’re builders.”
I am a long-time admirer of Naomi Klein who wrote the influential book, The Shock Doctrine.
But with all due respect, this is not a new alliance.
There have always been some union leaders who feel more comfortable with the powerful than with those who remain powerless, whose view of the world is almost inseparable from management, bosses and the political elite.
Reading Klein I immediately thought back to what were known as the hard hat riots in New York following the murder of four Kent State students protesting the invasion of Cambodia in 1970.
Peter Brennan was president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. He served as the vice president of the New York City Central Labor Council and the New York State AFL-CIO. Brennan was a registered Democrat but supported Nixon and the Vietnam War.
A few days after Kent State, anti-war protesters announced they would hold a rally near City Hall to commemorate the four dead students. Brennan decided to organize a counter-rally of construction workers to show support for the Nixon administration.
Rioting construction workers violently attacked the protesters. The construction workers then invaded two nearby Pace University buildings, smashing lobby windows with clubs and crowbars and beating up students. More than 70 people were injured, including four policemen. Most of the injured required hospital treatment.
But you don’t have to go back 40 years.
Just last September we saw AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka endorsing the Dakota Pipeline using the same argument or excuse that those supporting Trump used: Jobs.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) came out this week in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the construction of which was delayed last week by an order from the Obama administration—a decision that itself stemmed from months of protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux.
In a statement, Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, said, “We believe that community involvement in decisions about constructing and locating pipelines is important and necessary, particularly in sensitive situations like those involving places of significance to Native Americas.”
As Klein points out, neither the pipeline nor Trump will provide jobs in a vibrant economy needed to improve the lives of union and not-yet union workers.
Union support of the Pipeline and Trump only divides the union movement from those who fight for social justice.
Union leaders like that are nothing new.
We have been here before.