AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told a group of reporters on Wednesday that there is little hope for labor unions to find common ground with the Trump administration, with a White House that's divided into two factions: aides who "turned out to be racist," and "Wall Streeters."
"You had one faction that actually had some of the policies that we would have supported on trade and infrastructure but turned out to be racist, and on the other hand, you had people who weren't racist, but they were Wall Street."
—Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO
"You had one faction that actually had some of the policies that we would have supported on trade and infrastructure but turned out to be racist," Trumka said at a roundtable hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
"And on the other hand, you had people who weren't racist, but they were Wall Street," he said. "And the Wall Streeters began to dominate the administration and have moved his agenda back to everything he fought against in the election."
Asked which side he thinks the president is on, Trumka responded: "Which day?" before adding: "I don't know. I wish I had the answer to that. I think a lot of people wish they had the answer. He has shown a remarkable ability to do a 180 on a dime."
Trumka's comments are significant, notes Axios' Shane Savitsky, because it is "startling language from the country's most powerful labor leader, who resigned from Trump's manufacturing council after Charlottesville, and a sign that the 'Trump coalition' that included blue collar workers in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, could be breaking down."
Recent polls and studies show that portions of Trump's base that carried him into office, including blue-collar workers, are now moving away from the president. "While Trump's support has been on the decline since he entered office in January," Common Dreams reported, a CNN poll (pdf) conducted earlier this month revealed that "the president's popularity among his previously-solid base is shown to be crumbling."
Even before Trump's controversial charge that "many sides" were to blame for the violent white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, calls for impeachment were mounting, along with speculation that he will resign before his term ends.
But his approval ratings hit an all-time low in the wake of his Charlottesville commentary, and he was forced to disband his two business councils after triggering a mass exodus of leaders like Trumka, who said he left the manufacturing council after consulting with union members who saw Trump's remarks as a "spirited defense" of white supremacy.
However, Trumka also said the council "never was a vehicle to provide real policy solutions. In fact, the committee never met." Instead, he said, it became a way for the administration to encourage deregulation, and "they didn't have any solutions for helping manufacturing."
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A focus group conducted in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night also displayed the growing discontent with the president in blue-collar America, revealing "bipartisan disappointment in the tenor of Trump's leadership during the first seven months of his presidency," NBC News reports.
When asked to describe Trump in just one word, the participants responded: "outrageous," "dishonest," "disappointing," "narcissistic," "off the scale," "crazy," "unbelievable," and "contemptible." Each participant who voted for Trump expressed concerns with how he's handled the presidency.
But "calling the president names—even if they're accurate—gets you nowhere," Trumka said. "Giving people information about the issues that are of concern to them is a way to bring those people" away from supporting him.
The labor leader told reporters he and many of his union's members are no longer optimistic that they will be able to work with the Trump administration, and that he will instead focus on communicating with disillusioned union members—many of whom voted for the president, he said, because of Trump's campaign trail appeals to working-class people.
"I think a significant amount of the optimism has faded away, because we haven't seen an infrastructure bill, we haven't seen the renewal of manufacturing, we haven't seen the things that we were hopeful about that we could work with him on."
"There's no question that the optimism of a lot of people―our members, of all the sectors, not just the building trades, a lot of the optimism is fading," Trumka said. "I think a significant amount of the optimism has faded away, because we haven't seen an infrastructure bill, we haven't seen the renewal of manufacturing, we haven't seen the things that we were hopeful about that we could work with him on."
"They voted for Trump because he was going to do this, and do that, and do this and do that," but now, when presented with the president's actual agenda, workers are "drawing the conclusion that their investment wasn't a good investment," he said.
Pointing to the healthcare debate as an another example, Trumka noted that the president promised "he was going to bring healthcare for everyone, and we agreed with him, [but] every proposal that the Republicans came forward with, he supported."
In July, Senate Republicans failed at several attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the law which governs the national healthcare system. Since then, the president has suggested that he will sabotage the ACA, raising concerns among insurance providers, lawmakers, and those who depend on the ACA's state exchanges for health insurance coverage.
When communicating with AFL-CIO members about Trump's policies, "what we have done since day one is tell the truth: Here's what he promised, here's what he did," Trumka said, adding that among members: "You're beginning to see a lot of people come back across the bridge."