The headline recalls a phrase of George Orwell’s, from his Animal Farm, in which one species claims that even if all animals are created equal, some are more equal than the others.
Orwell was, of course, speaking ironically. If someone is more equal than another, there is, in fact, no equality. I am thinking, as I write this, of the assertion by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, that President Biden was wrong to stop the Keystone XL pipeline (which line would carry natural gas from Canada down to the Gulf to be shipped.). How did President Biden so quickly cancel an estimated 11,000 union labor jobs — and yes, almost all natural gas and oil work is unionized — while at the same time hesitating to ask public schools to reopen because teachers unions balk ? Is Biden a unionist or isn’t he ?
Biden has nominated Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to be his labor secretary. Walsh is a unionist from top to toe, It’s his life. How does Walsh explain, or accept, the cancellation of up to 11,000 classically union jobs ? He can’t be happy about it. Rich Trumka is one of Walsh’s sponsors for the labor job. If there’s any gap between the two men on labor issues, I haven’t sensed it. Likewise, Walsh is not instinctively a teacher union guy. As Mayor he has had to deal with a host of teacher-generated school budget and school administration issues. His support for building trades unions came much more naturally and easier in a decade of full-tilt real estatre development.
Trumka makes a good point when he says that any job creation by clean energy businesses doesn’t do anything ort the unionists losing their Keystone jobs. “These guys,” he says, “live in their community. they like their community. The clean jobs are far away.” Why should the union guys have to move 2000 miles to where the clean jobs will be, even assuming that the unionists can qualify for them ? It’s hard not to see Biden’s decisions here as purely political. The Keystone XL runs through North Dakota, a State which Biden lost by double digits, whereas teachers unions are concentrated in the cities that Biden won by double digits.
The decision is also political, purely, on policy grounds. The idea that there is a climate crisis is almost entirely a Democratic one. Most Republicans are far more skeptical. (So am I, obviously.) And the Democrats most fervent about there being a crisis in the climate are the “progressives”; for whom Bidden is an accommodation only — Bernie Sanders was the candidate most preferred. Meanwhile, the kinds of unionists whom Trumka speaks for tended to vote for Mr. Trump, both in 2016 and last year.
Trumka of course wants these unionists to come home to the Democratic party that almost all of them once supported. After all, oil workers, like their factory floor cohorts, are the AFL-CIO’s base. That base has moved away from the Democratic party, to which Trumka has long been committed. Can he win them back to the Democrats ? I wonder. It certainly won’t happen if the Democratic President makes clear that he answers to teachers unions while dismissing Trumka’s guys. Nor is the happy talk about “:millions of clean energy jobs” likely to convince Trumka’s oil workers. What sorts of jobs are they, exactly ? And where worked ? But also, why ? And why now ? One wants to say that if there is any crisis involving union workers, it’s the refusal of some school districts to re-open. Students computering from home can learn, I suppose, but they cannot interact socially, which is so so important for young people, and they lack the immediacy of a teacher and student conversation. Yet this crisis gets scant recognition from President Biden’s ate keepers, while the purveyors of weather emergencies eat his bread and drink his Pepsi right there in the Oval Office.
In the Biden Presidency’s world, some unions are more equal than others.
— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere