Concern over disaffected workers being swayed by radical rhetoric spurs an international call to action from labor groups
By Lauren McCauley, staff writer
May 11, 2016 – Concerned about the rise of right-wing extremism and how it has preyed on the fears of working people across the world, labor leaders from nearly a dozen countries met in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to declare the need for a "global New Deal" to fight these forces.
"Too many politicians in the U.S. and Europe are exploiting our differences and inciting hate and division," said Richard Trumka, president of AFL-CIO, which organized the day-long forum along with its non-union affiliate, Working America, and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a German political foundation associated with the Social Democratic Party.
Highlighting the unique position of the international labor movement to combat extremism, labor representatives traveled from Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the UK to strategize about how best to counter the appeal of far-right rhetoric to voters frustrated by years of gross inequality and, instead, harness that energy to advance workers’ rights and values.
"Income inequality is a global problem that should unite all leaders; it should not give rise to right wing extremism and building walls," Trumka continued. "We must come together to focus on common issues like raising wages and creating good jobs. Political tactics that scapegoat hardworking immigrants and refugees only serve to pit workers against one another, while ignoring the corporate excess that created these problems."
The forum—which was convened as a reaction to the ascendancy of Donald Trump in the U.S., the National Democratic Party (NDP) in Germany, the National Front in France, Greece’s Golden Dawn Party, and others—"illustrates the extent to which progressive movements across the developed world have begun to view the far right as a common, and urgent, threat," Huffington Post reported.
In fact, as the anti-union think tank Capital Research recently noted, mainstream Republicans who have expressed reservations over Trump’s nomination also see "political opportunity" with the possibility that blue collar workers and so-called "Trump Democrats" will "gravitate toward the GOP—perhaps putting states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota into play in the Electoral College."
Underscoring that possibility, a poll released Tuesday showed Trump essentially tied with Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in key swing states, including Pennsylvania.
The global labor leaders agreed that a deeply progressive agenda is the only viable solution to counter the Far Right, whose support has largely relied on those disaffected and disenfranchised by mainstream politics—communities that for years have struggled with austerity, economic stagnation, lack of jobs, and the effects of mass migration.
Notably, Tuesday’s panel placed "a sizable share of the blame" on center-left parties’ embrace of neo-liberalism, HuffPo reports, which has "diminished the public’s faith in the ability of labor unions and progressive politics to deliver for them—paving the way for far-right populism."
"We must insist that the candidates and political parties we support back an ambitious program for broad-based economic growth driven by rising wages," declared Damon Silvers, director of policy at the AFL-CIO. "The labor movement must demand that the politicians we support offer, in place of neoliberalism and austerity, a global New Deal."
"Trust in government is broken in too many countries around the world where one in two working families have lost their jobs or have reduced working hours," said International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow.
Indeed, a census of 1,689 face-to-face conversations conducted by Working America earlier this year found that voter frustration with politics is "pervasive," but that "worry is more prevalent than bigotry in determining voter choices."
The group discovered that many Trump supporters were ultimately open to conversation and "looking for insights they considered reliable and for a way forward to remedy the uncertainty they feel about their lives and the future of the country."