CWA’s Shelton skewers Republicans for their threat to democracy
Communications Workers president, veteran unionist and former New York Bell telephone lineman Chris Shelton. CWA

ST. LOUIS —In his final keynote address as Communications Workers president, veteran unionist and former New York Bell telephone lineman Chris Shelton blasted the Republican Party’s continuing threat to democracy. And it’s primarily but not solely from Donald Trump.

“Never forget who we are fighting for and who are we fighting against: The bosses and the fascists and the people who think power is the most important” goal, he said.

“The Republican Party no longer believes in democracy,” he declared. “They do everything possible to stoke fear and hatred,” including attacking school teachers and attacking immigrants.

“Their second strategy is even more insidious,” he warned. “They whittle away our democracy by intimidating voters and by drawing discriminatory district lines.”

The catch is the Republicans have manipulated national anxiety, so that “tens of millions” of the U.S. people “are willing to give up their freedoms. This union and the entire labor movement must be ready to protect democracy.”

In some ways, workers already are. Convention debate noted protection of the constitutional right to abortion—a right stripped by a Republican-named U.S. Supreme Court majority—was the top issue among voting women in last year’s off-year election, and that female voter registration rose by 35% after that ruling.

Nevertheless, Shelton pointed to a problem U.S. workers and particularly their leaders have wrestled with ever since Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” which actually began when the then-Vice President saw huge and clamorous crowds in Atlanta in 1960. He implemented it in 1968.

The Southern Strategy, later extended nationwide by the GOP, plays on white hate and fear of “the other,” particularly of people of color. It instills fear, especially in working-class men, that workers of color threaten their jobs, social status, and the fabric of society. That fear produced a 52% vote for Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016 in key swing states around the Great Lakes.

By contrast, “When it’s time to make decisions that affect working people, he doesn’t ask the CEOs” for advice, Shelton said of Democratic President Joe Biden. Then, deadpan, Shelton said of Biden’s attitude towards the bosses: “He doesn’t really care.”

“Joe Biden respects us and who we are” even to the extent of inviting rank-and-file workers into the White House for discussing problems. “You know who doesn’t? Donald Trump.”

Shelton, like political analysts, assumes the 2024 presidential race will be a Biden-Trump rerun, which Biden won in 2020, overcoming Trump’s claims of “Stop the steal!” and, eventually the Jan. 6, 2021, Trumpite insurrection, invasion, and coup d’état attempt at the U.S. Capitol.

Biden has minimal opposition, so far, on the Democratic side. Trump, Biden’s Republican predecessor, faces challenges from right-wingers such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Govs. Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. They espouse Trumpite policies, including anti-worker policies, without Trump’s baggage.

“If anything, Donald Trump is even more unhinged than he’s ever been,” including in his Oval Office term, said Shelton, a New York City outer borough native, like Trump. The union leader, who became a telephone lineman after graduating high school, has a far different background from Trump, the son of a racist building developer who attended a civilian private school and then glided through college and grad school on “gentlemen’s Cs”.

“He’s going to destroy the so-called ‘deep state’ by firing tens of thousands of thousands of federal workers,” Shelton said. “He’s a menace to all you workers, but we have defeated Donald Trump and his proto-fascist sympathizers before and we will defeat him again.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.