Commentary: Unions Aligning with America First

by Steve Cortes


After intense negotiations, the United Auto Workers secured a new agreement with Ford, General Motors, and their suppliers that effectively prohibits a vaccine mandate for employees by requiring only “voluntary” disclosure of vaccination status for union members. This hard-won validation for workers points to a larger opportunity for the America First movement and organized labor to acknowledge that they are natural allies.

On critical issues ranging from medical privacy to border security and foreign trade, the emerging populist and nationalist consensus of the New Right creates an obvious home for unionized Americans. The America First cause can, in turn, help revitalize private-sector unions and guarantee a more prosperous society for our country, with a stronger middle class through a better diffusion of economic and political power.

Operating through the regulatory burdens of OSHA, President Biden is insisting on an unscientific (and possibly unconstitutional) vaccine mandate for most workers in the country. The Biden administration disregards the perfectly appropriate reasons millions of Americans choose to forgo the injections, including prior COVID infections and the low statistical risk posed to young, healthy people. Instead, he seeks a jab by force, compelling masses of workers to choose between their own bodily autonomy and their livelihoods.

Thankfully, private-sector unions have stepped up aggressively to protect workers and employee privacy. In addition to the pushback from the UAW, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association declared that “it’s each pilot’s right to choose.” And with ports snarled with miserable supply chain backlogs, the head of the Pacific Maritime Association of port workers observed, “Probably the worst thing that could happen to us is to have less bodies available to man these terminals.”

But the federal government presses on with onerous mandates anyway, requiring shots, testing, and masking in workplaces that already struggle to staff up. So much for candidate Joe Biden’s promise to be a friend to workers, especially unionized ones. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that fully one-third of unvaccinated workers say they will quit before being forced to accept the injections. If truckers are forced to divulge their personal medical status, the American Trucking Association warned of “devastating impacts” for the supply chain and potential losses of one-third of all drivers.

Thus does a political opportunity unfold here for the young America First movement, which aligns with many unions and workers on mandates. States such Tennessee, Florida, and Montana are moving aggressively  to protect workers, with more red states and a cohesive national effort forming battle lines as well.

For starters, the congressional GOP caucuses can use the looming debt ceiling deadline as an opportunity to force Biden’s hand. If he won’t retract his unconstitutional edict, then let the Democrats shut the government down. They control both elected branches of government, so let’s see if they choose to die on the political hill of forcing Big Pharma’s treatments on unwilling American workers.

But looking beyond vaccination mandates, the America First movement would be wise to embrace the larger cause of renewing private-sector unions and making them, once again, forces of populist nationalist power in American civic and economic life. It’s no coincidence that real wages have fallen since the 1970s almost concurrently with declining union membership.

Consider the decades-long trend of widening income inequality in America. Until the 1960s, roughly 30% of U.S. workers were unionized and the top 10% of all earners in the country took home roughly 30% of all pay. By 2019, only 10% of workers were unionized, and the top 10% of all earners captured fully 46% of all pay. The results were especially crushing for men, who tended to be more unionized. For male workers, median yearly income declined by a stunning $5,171 in real terms over the decades from 1979 to 2019, per a study from the Economic Policy Institute.

This loss of middle-class prosperity did not simply result from a lower collective bargaining power. The decline in union membership coincided with a steep drop in manufacturing jobs because of the flood of foreign government-subsidized goods being imported from Asia coupled with a massive influx of cheap foreign labor into America, via both legal and illegal migration.

The exigencies of Democratic Party politics make it unthinkable of Biden to secure the border. Bur making America’s borders real again represents perhaps the most critical single task of the America First movement in the 2020s. A smart platform would finish building the wall, enact a temporary moratorium on all legal immigration, and phase out most work visas.

If that agenda of labor restriction combines with smarter, tougher trade policies that build upon the successes of Trump’s first term, the parties could realign in lasting ways. Working-class citizens will become loyal Republicans the way blue-collar workers once formed the foundation of the Democratic Party of our parents’ and grandparents’ eras.

Such seismic shifts will not flow seamlessly. Present union leadership is still too entrenched in the remnants of the Democratic Party and many have been co-opted by the leftist influences of public-sector unions. But the economic successes of the Trump years and the draconian restrictions of the pandemic have illuminated the possibility of a new path.

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Steve Cortes is a former adviser to President Trump.
Photo “United Auto Workers March” by Thomas Altfather Good. CC BY-SA 4.0.









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