WASHINGTON -- AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka plans to issue yet another warning to Democrats on Friday, proclaiming that if lawmakers don't push hard enough to stem attacks on labor's interests, workers will abandon the party in the 2012 election.
The union leader, whose perch atop the 11-million-member federation makes him arguably the most powerful labor official in the country, is slated to speak at a National Press Club luncheon. In excerpts from his prepared remarks, obtained in advance by The Huffington Post, Trumka focuses his ire on the widening gulf between U.S. workers and the wealthy -- attaching particular blame to politicians who value ideology over morality.
"Budget proposals unveiled in Washington and state capitals across our country revealed a despicable canvas of cruelty," Trumka will say, according to his prepared remarks. "And not just meanness. Destructiveness. A willful desire to block the road to the future."
"America’s real deficit is a moral deficit -- where political choices come down to forcing foster children to wear hand-me-downs while cutting taxes for profitable corporations," the remarks continue. "Powerful political forces are seeking to silence working people -- to drive us out of the national conversation."
Trumka also says in the prepared remarks that party affiliation alone won't determine how the federation allocates its resources in 2012. If Republican lawmakers embrace parts of the AFL-CIO's agenda, the union federation will respond in kind. If Democrats abandon the union community's principles -- or if they fail to protest as those principles are attacked -- they can expect similar treatment.
We will spend the summer holding elected leaders in Congress as well as the states accountable on one measure: Are they improving or degrading life for working families?”
We are looking hard at how we work in the nation’s political arena. We have listened hard, and what workers want is an independent labor movement that builds the power of working people -- in the workplace and in political life … Our role is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate. It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country.
It doesn’t matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside -- the outcome is the same either way. If leaders aren’t blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, working people will not support them. This is where our focus will be -- now, in 2012 and beyond.
The labor community -- the AFL-CIO especially -- has been taking steps towards greater independence from the Democratic Party as its disappointments with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats have mounted. The typical response from party insiders has been dismissive assumptions that labor has nowhere else to go.
But 2012 is the first cycle since unions actively campaigned against then-incumbent Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. And clearly Trumka feels emboldened by that experience, despite Lincoln's primary win. The AFL-CIO has traditionally judged lawmakers by their votes on legislation; threatening them for simply "standing aside" during the process is a much more aggressive posture.
Trumka has already been hinting recently that labor would stop giving as much money to candidates or party committees in favor of bolstering its own political operation -- a proclamation of financial independence that has caught the attention of national Democrats.
"You'll see us giving less to party structure, and more to our own structure," he told Salon earlier this month. "It's actually going to be fun."