Rift between Environmentalists and Unions Highlights Clinton's Weaknesses

    Unions representing construction and manufacturing workers may not line up behind Hillary Clinton and down ballot Democrats in the general election.  Clinton's opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and an announced partnership between three unions representing government employees and environmentalist Tom Steyer have incensed some labor leaders and their rank and file.  White-collar unions and the green billionaire have created the "For Our Future" super Pac in hopes of raising $50 million to help defeat Trump and Republican candidates in November.

    But building trade workers perceive Clinton and the Democratic party as choosing environmentalism over protecting their jobs and creating new ones.  Clinton's status with blue collar workers has been precarious in this election cycle.  Her somewhat belated but contextually laudable observation in March that "we're going to put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business” may have cost her the West Virginia primary last week.

    For months after she announced last year she was running for President, Clinton refused to say whether she supported the Keystone pipeline.  She came out against it in October.  Environmental advocates despise it while many construction and energy sector workers back it.  Nevertheless, reliable estimates are that only a few thousand temporary jobs would be needed to construct the pipeline and less than 100 permanent positions would ultimately result.

    Clinton may have hoped opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would mollify union members upset by her opposition to Keystone.  But many are refusing to come around.  Her problem is she doesn't have credibility as a labor supporter or job creator.

    Her husband signed NAFTA which, like an ever-widening hole in a dike, caused jobs first to trickle and then to gush away from our shores.  Clinton's supporters may argue she should not be held responsible for the damage her husband did while in office.  But her recent pronouncement that, if elected, she would put Bill in "charge of revitalizing the economy" will make it tougher for her to distance herself from his harmful neo-liberal policies.

    The revelation that Clinton, after becoming Secretary of State, aggressively lobbied Congress to ratify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, despite campaigning against it in 2008, is another reason unions are suspicious of her intentions.  Her campaign's dishonest claim that Bernie Sanders' medicare for all plan would be too expensive also hurt her with labor unions who greatly prefer universal single-payer health care.

    For employers, single-payer reduces the marginal cost of each new employee, thereby stimulating hiring.  Moreover, employees would see after-tax income rise given that they would no longer have to pay a percentage of health insurance premiums.  Clinton's refusal to endorse Sanders' call for a $15 national minimum wage is yet another way she has disappointed working people.

    Environmentalist Bill McKibben's 350.org website issued a report card in January to the then three still-standing Democratic candidates.  Bernie Sanders got a perfect score while Clinton received a 3 out of 7.  Yet it is Clinton whom building trade union members criticize for elevating the environment above jobs and whom many would likely forsake for Trump.

    What can Clinton do to win over understandably skeptical working voters?  Obviously, she shouldn't renounce her renunciation of Keystone.  Instead, she must demonstrate her commitment to bringing back good paying manufacturing jobs, creating new ones here, and strengthening unions.

    Between now and election day, Clinton will have to reckon directly with the terrible harm wreaked on America's working people and middle-class by free trade deals and China's most favored nation status.  She must identify for her Council of Economic Advisers experts with a track record of being right on free trade, i.e. opposing it, and supporting unions. She must also endorse Bernie Sanders' call to lift the cap on income subject to social security withholding and to move towards universal government-funded health care.

    Recent polls show Hillary Clinton in an increasingly close race with Donald Trump.  Interestingly, Bernie Sanders, who has virtually no chance of being the Democratic nominee, does significantly better against Trump according to surveys.  For Clinton to win, she must convince a significant portion of working class voters that she, like Bernie Sanders, will consistently side with them not with billionaire environmentalists, bankers, and lobbyists for multinational corporations.


    This is a pretty old tension in the party.  I remember how amazed everyone was that environmentalists and labor unions built an unsteady alliance during the WTO protests of the late 1990s.  Generally, the Democrat wins with both despite tensions because the Republican is worse for both environmentalists and unions.  The Republicans are full of contradictions as well.  Culturally permissive libertarians end up voting with fundamentalist Christians because they find some common ground on taxes.  I suppose the worry here is that because Trump has tough words for China that labor unions will flock to his cause because he promises, without much credibility to renegotiate all of our trade deals.

    Well, maybe they will.  I think the unions are mostly smarter than that.

    I notice nothing on immigration here, though.  That will be a touchy suspect.  But if unions go to Trump over his immigration rhetoric, what does that say about them?  That's not something the left can be expected to cater to.

    Spare us the current polls. As delusional to forecast a November election as Bernie's promises.

    No way a white haired self proclaimed socialist could ever be elected President in America. This isn't Venezuela.

    Republicans have concentrated on attacking Hillary, they have no concerns about taking down the Bern. His nomination would guarantee a Trump victory. His effort to divide and destroy the Democratic party may do the same.

    The GOP wouldn't need a swiftboat to send him and his candidacy down the river, a leaky raft flying a red flag would do it.

    Your supposition is that Building Trade Union members would gravitate to Trump in a general election between Clinton and Trump more so than between Sanders and Trump? I just don't think that's true. When push comes to shove, proposals for infrastructure spending from either candidate would be better for Unions than a Union busting, low debt huckster like Trump.

    You may conclude that Sanders proposals are incrementally better for Union workers than are Clinton's (that's your opinion), but pulling the lever is a go/no decision. 

    Having the fortune (or lack thereof) of now working in-house for a NYC building trades union, and without delving into things inappropriately, I can acknowledge extraordinary and disheartening attraction to Donald Trump, causing me to bite my tongue more than I'm accustomed to.  And I would say that the notion that more than a percentage in the single digits would vote for Sanders over Trump but not Clinton is beyond reasonableness.  It's just not so.

    Bruce, does the call for infrastructure spending by Democrats reach the rank and file and does it figure in voting behavior?



    Infrastructure is something that resonates with the membership in New York, like nothing else.

    I am pretty sure that the "building trades" don't care about the Keystone pipeline or minimum wage.

    I have been in the industry for over thirty years. None of the union trades people I have ever encountered gave a moments thought about pipelines and the minimum wage as having anything to do with their deal. That first link is full of self promotion.

    MOAT - your experiences are different from mine.  Shortly after I started KRXA 540 AM in Monterey in 2005, I was approached by a union organizer who focused on retail and hospitality workers and the president of the local plasterers union.  We agreed that they would do a weekend radio show called Labor Matters which they broadcast for a couple of years until their grant money dried up.  The two agreed on most issues - the need to raise the minimum wage and reduce education cost and health care for all stand out in my mind.  They disagreed sometimes about immigration.  To the best of my recollection, the plasterer who was an American of Hispanic descent was more willing to set limits on immigration and to consider deporting undocumented immigrants.

    While my memory may be hazy about their views on immigration, I remember very clearly that they frequently disputed over environmental laws and regulations.  The organizer was a staunch environmentalist who always championed clean air and clean water, i.e., cleaning up the Carmel River, limiting growth and development, requiring identified water sources before any construction, keeping new construction away from the Pacific and Monterey Bay.  The plasterer argued environmental regulations were hurting building trade workers and were often unnecessary or overbroad.

    The New York Times article I cited describes a dynamic I witnessed first hand.

    Both of our anecdotal accounts reflect an important difference that is worth making explicit. The perception of what benefits the industry which employs a person is different than whatever that person thinks should be done for the community or world at large.
    For instance, I know that I will prosper if the city I work in has a lot of people ready to put money into building things. On the other hand, I know that what gets built and where it is located can degrade the life of my City and her people.
    People, as a whole, obviously choose many options on the basis of self interest. But we wouldn't be a society if that was the only criteria under consideration.

    I missed your headline, "Bernie opposes Keystone XL pipeline, highlights weakness with unions".

    Could you repost?

    "Democrats' Environmentalist vs.Union Conundrum---What's New?"

    *I* know that, *you* know that, but somehow it seems to be slipping past a largeish demographic. Conveniently so.

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