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.