Faced with Donald Trump’s repeated declarations that he will refuse to peacefully leave office if the vote results don’t go his way, some unions are speaking up about the crucial role organized labor can play in defending democracy.
In late September, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka asserted that labor should “stand ready to do our part to ensure his defeat in this election is followed by his removal from office.” And on October 8, the labor council in Rochester, New York resolved to call “on the National AFL-CIO, all of its affiliate unions, and all other labor organizations in the United States of America to prepare for and enact a general strike of all working people, if necessary, to ensure a Constitutionally mandated peaceful transition of power as a result of the 2020 Presidential Elections.”
Whereas most union leaders these days remain tragically averse to talking about, let alone systematically organizing for, strike action, the Rochester Labor Council explained that “the most powerful tool of the Labor Movement in our history has been the power of the General Strike” and that “united working people refusing to work across the nation have a greater power than any political machinations of aspiring despots.”
From Germany, to Spain, to Sudan just last year, workers have used strike action to put the brakes on authoritarian power grabs. In the United States, flight attendant union leader Sara Nelson’s threat of a general strike was pivotal in ending Trump’s government shutdown in early 2019.
Though Trump is currently losing in the polls, complacency could be disastrous. The sad truth is that to maintain his grip on power, he doesn’t need to win the most Electoral College votes, he only needs to make the vote count close enough to push the question to the Republican-stacked courts. Trump’s plan is clear: entrench himself in the White House by leaning on right-wing mobilizations and turning to a rigged legal system.
As such, the Rochester Labor Council is not wrong to declare that “the extreme risk currently posed to the historic institutions of democracy in our nation may require more widespread and vigorous resistance than at any time in recent history.”
Though it’s unlikely that Trump would eliminate basic political freedoms, an election stolen through right-wing street violence and the Supreme Court could set us up for a slow slide into some kind of soft authoritarian regime, further empowering and radicalizing right-wing forces from below.
The mass protests and civil disobedience that a stolen election would trigger could be the pretext for attempts by Trump to clamp down on some civil liberties and to further encourage right-wing militia intimidation, all in the name of cracking down on “antifa” and property destruction. A new and dangerous dynamic could take hold.
This, of course, is the worst case scenario. A clear Biden blowout on November 3 could be enough to force Trump and his Republican allies to retreat. But this is one election where the “better safe than sorry” rule clearly applies.
The Rochester Labor Council is right. Labor can play a central role in creating the mass disruption necessary to defeat Trump’s plans to steal the election. And that means starting to prepare and organize now.