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In order for us to understand the background, Ryan Kekeris, Assistant International Organizing Director of IUPAT, gives us his perspective of the last four years.
– President Donald Trump’s policies have almost exclusively been anti-union. His tax policies made it harder for workers, at the same time as he lowered the taxes for millionaires and billionaires. He made life more difficult for immigrants in every respect, and so on.
In Ryan Kekeris’ opinion, the only thing that has been positive for his members is the relatively strong economy prior to the pandemic – something he argues was despite of Trump, rather than thanks to him.
– We saw how fragile the economy was in the handling of the pandemic. It was a mixture of insensitivity and a direct denial of science and public health. It has likely led to the death of tens of thousands of Americans, and is one of the most shameful tragedies in my lifetime, Kekeris says.
His policies and rhetoric have encouraged the US far-right movement, and now we see the result in the form of growing right wing militias and groups like the Proud Boys.
IUPAT gave Joe Biden its official support.
– When it was clear that Joe Biden was the Democrat candidate, and that he also sought our members’ support specifically, we took that as a good sign and supported him – of course mainly because of the policies he promised to implement, Kekeris explains.
The fact that IUPAT has both Trump and Biden supporters among its members naturally made the situation delicate. The election was frequently discussed in the workplaces – sometimes heatedly.
The polarization in the US is considered to have increased.
– Trump has been actively trying to divide the American working class around questions of race and nationality, and he represents the worst attributes in American politics. His policies and rhetoric have encouraged the US far-right movement, and now we see the result in the form of growing right wing militias and groups like the Proud Boys, Ryan Kekeris says.
The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) is the painters’ trade union in the US and Canada.
IUPAT has its headquarter in Hannover, Maryland, and represents approximately 140 000 active and retired painters and other workers. Most of its members work in the construction industry.
One year before the election, therefore, IUPAT tried something new.
– We started a Member Education and Mobilization-program, to educate our members about core questions that largely all of us agree upon. We then worked with the political candidates to make sure that their policies were in accordance with ours, rather than the opposite.
– With election day closing in, IUPAT-employees all across the country worked to register and mobilize our members to get involved and vote. One year is, in fact, too little time, but we think that by doing this we have created a platform for future elections.
There has been talk within the labour movement of a general strike in case Donald Trump should not accept the election result.
Ryan Kekeris thinks this is unlikely to happen.
– Even though the labour movement has a crucial role in defending the democratic institutions, I don’t think that the discussions about a general strike were based on reality. The unfortunate truth is that right now, the American labour movement is weak. We have been subjected to attacks from our own government for decades, he explains.
The fact that only one out of ten Americans belongs to a workers’ union nowadays speaks its own clear language.
We’re hoping that this will turn out to be ’the most pro-union president in US history’, as they claimed in the election campaign.
– At the same time, a majority of American workers say that they would join a union right now if they could. It doesn’t add up. I think that it is going to take a lot of organization and a lot of struggle to regain our strength, Kekeris says.
With Joe Biden as president and Kamala Harris as vice president, the future is looking brighter for the US labour movement.
– We’re hoping that this will turn out to be “the most pro-union president in US history”, as they claimed in the election campaign. We see an opportunity to push back on the majority of Trump’s anti-worker policies, simultaneously as we expand the US labour legislation by passing the PRO Act*. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have both promised to support the bill.
– If we succeed, this will become the first federal bill that benefits the union movement for almost a hundred years. At the end of the day, we see Biden and Harris as a chance for the labour movement to organize new members, says Ryan Kekeris.
(*The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act strengthens the federal laws that protect workers’ right to join a union.)
Joe Biden’s promised policies:
- A better strategy for handling the corona virus
- Keep and develop the health insurance system Obamacare, that Trump wants to abolish
- Increase taxes for the rich and for companies – taxes that Trump has lowered considerably.
- Lower taxes for people on lower incomes
- Increase the statutory minimum wages from today’s $7,25 to $15.
- Taking measures to combat racial discrimination.
- He wants the US to resume its global involvement and take stronger measures for the climate.
Joe Biden may run into hardships getting changes passed, however. All bills need support from the Congress, which is dominated by Republicans.
Sources: DN, SVT
Text: Lena Nyblad and Ola Liljedahl
Translation: Chris Smedbakken