Former President Donald Trump and seven other Republican presidential hopefuls will take to the stage tonight, albeit separate ones, to make the case to the American people that they can save the working class. But if past is prologue, we can be confident this collection of wanna-be-presidents won’t have much in the way of substance to offer.
For this week’s Closer Look, we want to outline Trump and Republicans’ track records on showing up for the working class. We have a lot to say on the matter, so we’ve broken our discussion down into sections to make it easier to follow.
Seven Republican candidates will participate in the second GOP presidential primary debate being held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA. Like last time, Donald Trump – currently leading in the polls – will skip the event. Instead, he will be giving a prime-time speech to about 500 workers at Drake Enterprises, a car parts manufacturer outside of Detroit whose owner invited him to speak
Trump is obviously using his speech tonight to portray himself as a champion of the working class. But the facts around his event tonight simply don’t pass the smell test. In a case of fairly egregious journalistic malpractice, several mainstream media outlets are reporting that Trump is speaking to striking auto workers tonight, but this simply isn’t true. While some UAW members will be in attendance, none of them are there in an official capacity, and most of the audience will be comprised of nonunion electricians, plumbers, and pipefitters. And remarkably, the event is also being held at a nonunion plant no less than 20 miles away from the nearest UAW picket line. Compare this to what we saw yesterday from President Biden, who, in a historic first for a sitting US president, joined UAW President Shawn Fain and other UAW members on a picket line in Wayne County, Michigan.
Optics aside, Trump and Republicans’ rhetoric around the UAW strikes simply doesn’t hold water. They have paid nothing but vague lip service in support of the workers. While President Biden and the Democrats have joined UAW workers in pointing the finger at executives of the Big Three automakers for their stagnant wages, Republicans have instead laid blame at the feet of the Biden Administration and their push for a green energy transition to electric vehicles (EVs). The auto workers themselves have voiced support for the transition to EVs, with an emphasis on a just transition that ensures EV jobs are high-quality union jobs. Republicans would prefer those jobs either don’t exist, or in the case of Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, would like to ensure as few worker protections as possible. It’s also worth noting that, unlike Biden, Republicans have conspicuously failed to support UAW workers’ exact demands or affirmed the right for the workers to strike.
Putting the UAW strike aside for a moment, Trump has an abhorrent record when it comes to upholding and supporting labor rights. As president, Trump appointed several judges to the National Labor Relations Board who went out of their way to stifle workers’ ability to organize. Among other things, they limited workers’ rights to organize on their employers’ property, lowered the standard needed for employers to eliminate unions, and made it easier for employers to classify workers as independent contractors, effectively denying them the right to organize. Trump famously made a few big shows of saving factories and protecting manufacturing jobs, but many of these plants ended up floundering and cutting jobs anyway.
Congressional Republicans are no better. Few have supported the wildly popular Protecting the Right to Organize Act – or, simply, the PRO Act – which would strengthen and protect the right to organize. They even introduced their own bill designed to undermine the ability of workers to organize, the National Right to Work Act, which would enshrine so-called “right-to-work” laws that leave workers vulnerable to be fired at any time without cause or severance.
Two weeks ago, several Republican Senators introduced the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, a bill which would gradually raise the minimum wage to $11 by 2028 (and then index it afterwards to inflation) and mandate the use of E-Verify to ensure wage increases flow only to legal workers. One might feel encouraged to know that Republicans are taking an interest in raising the minimum wage. But upon closer inspection, it’s clear that Republicans are fundamentally unserious about helping workers; otherwise, they might have proposed a better bill.
We won’t even entertain the E-Verify portion of this bill other than to say that it has been proven ineffectual and is nothing but an anti-immigrant, racist dog whistle. We’ll focus instead on the fact that $11 is too little, too late. The estimated living wage in America – the real wage that Americans would need to afford basic essentials – is $19.64. It’s safe to say that Republicans’ bill is nothing but a brazen stunt to pump up their fake “pro-worker” credentials and take a shot at immigrants in the process.
And, of course, it’s worth mentioning that Trump had four years in the White House – with two years of Republican control of the House and Senate – and did nothing whatsoever to raise the minimum wage.
Perhaps most egregious on their long anti-worker rap sheet, Republicans in recent months have supported efforts to roll back protections against child labor. Over the last year, there has been a 44% rise in the number of children employed illegally in the US, particularly in dangerous jobs like meatpacking. (Recent bombshell exposès have shone a spotlight on this epidemic.) And what have Republicans done about it? In 10 states over the last two years, GOP lawmakers have introduced or passed laws to make it easier for employers to engage in this egregious exploitation. They try to justify these measures with claims of “tight labor markets” and “parents’ rights” but nothing – absolutely nothing – can justify endangering the lives of children just to help employers raise their profit margins.
It’s no secret that Trump and Republicans have made inroads in recent years among working class voters. In 2020, Trump carried 40% of the union vote – less than Biden, but still a sizable portion. These voters should check the record: President Biden has revitalized the NLRB, introduced new standards at the Department of Labor to improve pay and overtime protections for workers, and stood alongside striking auto workers (again, a first for a sitting US president) while vocally supporting their demands. Trump unwound labor protections, failed to lift a finger on the minimum wage, and accepted an invite from a business owner to speak at a nonunion manufacturer.
As the saying goes: when people show you who they are, believe them. In that spirit, we call on working Americans to believe Republicans when they show us how little they care about workers. They can say whatever they want on the debate stage, or on the stage at nonunion plants in Michigan, but actions will always speak far louder than words.