Fight for the unionized white worker vote

Even if Donald Trump is nuts

Donald Trump rises up as the labor movement drifts down. What’s needed is a reversal of fortunes, writes Neil Gross, a sociology professor, in an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times.

Working class men “might have been out front in the fight against Mr. Trump — if only the American labor movement weren’t a shell of its former self,” Gross writes. But there’s hope, he believes. Recent studies find organized labor remains effective at getting member to the polls; for example, for Barack Obama, an otherwise “tough sell to white union members with less progressive racial attitudes,” in the 2008 election.

“Exit polls showed that white men who didn’t belong to unions voted overwhelmingly for John McCain, but unionized white men ended up supporting Mr. Obama, giving him a needed edge,” says Gross, who teaches at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Unfortunately “union decline has left the working class politically and economically vulnerable, and it’s this vulnerability Mr. Trump has been able to exploit.”

O.k., 2016, how are things looking for Hillary Clinton in the battleground state of Pennsylvania where union membership accounts for 804,000 workers — 14 percent of the state’s labor force and rising — according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report in January? “People are moving off of Trump, and now we have to give them a reason to vote for Hillary,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, tells Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle.

“If you had a $30-an-hour job in the mill and now you’re working an $8-hour-job at a big box store, you’re pissed,” he said. “For years, elected officials have said, ‘We’re going to help the middle class, we’re going to turn it around,’ but we haven’t. Obama has certainly been better, but still.” Union campaigners for Hillary Clinton are reportedly pushing the “nuts” — as in Trump — angle, but that, so far, is having limited effect.

“Some of them know Trump’s nuts, but they’re so disillusioned with politics that some of them are OK with someone like that because he’s different,” says Bloomingdale. That could, of course, include the 28 percent of the state’s union members who are registered Republican, plus laid-off former union members-turned-small businessmen who have switched parties.

And while the most recent poll showed Clinton up by 11 points in the state, 59 percent of white voters and 53 percent of those with a high school education or less in economically hard-hit southwest Pennsylvania “still prefer Trump,” the San Francisco Chronicle notes.