While America has always been a divided nation based on our identities, it seems that these identifications are super-charged today. We identify ourselves racially, economically, politically, by gender and sexuality. Donald Trump seems gleeful to use intentionally explosive words to create further and wider divisions. These loaded words embolden groups to exploit and vilify large segments of our society.
Since the formation of our nation, divisions of identity groups have pitted one group of workers against another. Whether it has been the color of one’s skin, the country or origin, the god one chooses, treating women as second class citizens, or one’s sexuality – division among the working class is a means to build power and a way to advance an agenda that hasn’t been in the best interest of the majority of Americans. We have to realize that these divisions are used as a smoke screen to divert the attention of the electorate.
In 1968, Nixon played to the white voters in the south who opposed the 1964 and 1968 passage of the Civil Rights Act. Reagan used similar tactics to defeat Jimmy Carter. Bush I and II used the diversionary tactic of focusing on same sex marriage to divide working people. Trump’s success in scapegoating immigrants, objectifying women and alienating communities of color, sadly led him to the White House.
In this era of Trump-style diversionary tactics that have emboldened hate groups, it is more important than ever that the union movement is solidly the most safe and welcoming place we have for all workers. Our workers reflect the full diversity of America. Today’s union leaders must understand this diversity and embrace measures, trainings and programs that address workplace and living issues equitably for all workers.
For example, transgender issues have become more pronounced over the last several years as workers find the courage to speak out about their identities. If unions are to be inclusive organizations, these workers need to feel totally safe and welcome. Our responsibility is to work with our transgender members and develop programs that fully educate our leadership and members.
Over the last 14 years, the Oregon AFL-CIO has been on the forefront of moving forward with difficult and ground breaking issues. We have partnered with CAUSA on addressing immigration issues and working to pass the Workplace Fairness Act which:
- Prevents employers from asking for nondisclosure agreements that relate to discrimination at the time of hiring, during settlement and during severance negotiations;
- Prevents employers from requesting provisions that prevent the rehiring of previously discriminated-against employees during settlement agreements;
- Extends the statute of limitations for discrimination in employment situations from one to five years;
- Directs BOLI to create policies and procedures for employers/employees that relate to sexual harassment; and
- Ensures that where employers have made a good faith determination that harassment has occurred, any severance given to the harasser, if an executive, is rendered unenforceable.
Our union movement must be constantly evolving to meet the needs of our diverse membership. Not only must we develop trainings, but we must incorporate these lessons into our summits, conferences, conventions, and ourselves. It is our job to take on any and all issues that impact workers. We build power for our worker’s movement when we recognize and embrace our diversity. It is our strength not our weakness.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 138,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.