Shuler: Labor leaders on coasts didn’t respond to problems in the heartland
Liz Shuler | AFL-CIO

WASHINGTON—Organized labor, the Democratic Party and other institutions have a big miscommunications problem: A split between leaders on both coasts and in the big cities and members in the middle of the country.

So says AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler. But that split can be solved by “working with what unites us,” economic issues, she adds.

Shuler advanced that observation in an exclusive interview before speaking on the split between labor and Dems as part of a panel discussion on that – and how to solve it.

“The leadership is on both coasts and in the big cities. Folks in the middle of the country are not in alignment with the leadership. How to solve that has to be central to our conversation,” she explained.

A member of the Electrical Workers and daughter of two union members in Portland, Ore., Shuler has both an insider’s perspective – in the AFL-CIO’s #2 job – and an outsider’s, as a woman, to that split. The split resulted in heavy voting for GOP President Donald Trump among working-class whites, men and women.

“We have to stay focused on the economic issues, because they’re the ones that unify us,” she added.

A top union president with many blue-collar white members agreed, also in an interview.

“Many of our people were hurting so badly,” said Jim Boland of the Painters after a recent AFL-CIO conference on immigration. “Hillary was more of the same” for  them, so a large share – he estimates at least 40 percent – voted for Trump.

Those members may still be hurting after Trump’s anti-worker moves in office, but they may be loath to return, Boland conceded. “Nobody likes to admit they’ve been fooled.”

Boland lashed out at those who try to blame immigrants for their problems, however. He said his message for white workers is: “Don’t blame the immigrants for your problems. It is corporate policy that leaves workers in pain.”

“Trump has been so effective at hammering home on jobs and the economy,” Shuler conceded. Workers with that focus are the ones union leaders must get back “since the ones who are focused on abortion and guns are the ones we’re not going to reach, anyway.”


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.