Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Stern gives way to Trumka

Now that Andy Stern is leaving the presidency of SEIU, Richard Trumka -- president of the AFL-CIO -- gets to be the undisputed Big Man in U.S. labor. This seems a plausible exchange at AFL-CIO headquarters this morning.

"They'll be looking for a new punching bag," one staffer said, turning to Trumka.

"I'll be glad to accommodate. I wear that proudly," he replied.

Daily Beast

Just maybe, we may be getting fortunate in labor's leadership. The guy is thoughtful and interesting. Here's Trumka speaking at the Institute of Politics, Harvard Kennedy School, this month.

Why did our democracy endure through the Great Depression? Because working people discovered it was possible to elect leaders who would fight for them and not for the financial barons who had brought on the catastrophe. Because our politics offered a real choice besides greed and hatred. Because our leaders inspired the confidence to reject hate and charted a path to higher ground through broadly shared prosperity.

This is a similar moment. Our politics have been dominated by greed and the forces of money for a generation. Now, amid the wreckage that came from that experiment, we hear the voices of hatred, of racism and homophobia.

At this moment of economic pain and anger, political intellectuals face a great choice -- whether to be servants or critics of economic privilege. And I think this is an important point to make here at Harvard. The economic elites at JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and the other big Wall Street banks are happy to hire intellectual servants wherever they can find them. But the stronger the alliance between intellectuals and economic elites, the more the forces of hatred -- of anti-intellectualism -- will grow. If you want to fight the forces of hatred, you have to help empower the forces of righteous anger.

I like that. I admit I am surprised he mentioned the "homophobia" that is a part of the current reactionary hysteria.

Democracy does need people with megaphones (Trumka's "political intellectuals") speaking up for restoring some economic equality. Making space for everyone to feel they are getting a fair chance is how we tamp down the rising tide of racism and resentment. If those fancy Harvard types, or the corporate media, won't or can't do it, we need blogs and community organizations adding their weight to the unions, doing the work of democracy.

1 comment:

naomi dagen bloom said...

Because I'm way out of the loop on life in laborland, hearing about Andy Stern's resignation made me wonder what to expect. Heard some about Trumka and appreciate your posting this.

What's the possibility of this being your next post at TGB?

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