Labor Voices: The people, not politicians, hold power

Cindy Estrada

We are a month into Donald Trump’s presidency and I think we can all agree that our local, national and global communities are facing social and economic challenges that we’ve not seen in our country’s recent history. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Trump’s election was an overdue wake-up call for those who forgot that at the end of the day, the people hold the power to run this country — not the politicians, pundits, or pollsters. The people spoke through the Electoral College in favor of disruption. So today, we find ourselves together, unsure of what to do next, but understanding that we can’t be effective by doing the same old, same old.

The women’s marches. The Keystone and Dakota Access pipeline resistance. Airport takeovers to protest Muslim and immigrant entry bans. Rallies to protect the Affordable Care Act. Organized working men and women have been part of these and other growing and diverse community movements which are sending a loud and persistent message to the 1 percent and introducing new activists to the power of solidarity and speaking in unity.

We are very early into what some are calling a “new normal” created by Trump and his administration. And while many administration policies and appointments have angered and alarmed me and millions of others to act, at the end of the day, action by the people is what’s needed to drive any government to honor the demands of the majority. The difference now is that this “new normal” makes the stakes higher than they’ve ever been in my lifetime.

Trump and his administration are already trying to fracture our respective camps to make sure we do not have enough power to unite against their most destructive policies. Already, the usual suspects are highlighting our differences to divide and conquer us and our expanding power and influence. Environmentalists and building trades. Racial justice organizations and police unions. Bernie Sanders supporters and Hillary Clinton supporters. Organized labor and immigrants. The list goes on and on.

But years of organizing have taught me that workers win their union and a meaningful seat at the table when they remember what unites them, not what divides them. Solidarity withstands the employer’s disruption, fear, division and favoritism every time workers put aside their differences, focus on what they have in common, and don’t fall for fake promises or short-term fixes.

It’s the same for the labor, populist and progressive movements. The time on the clock of the world tells us that we must stand in solidarity with old and new allies and work in common cause if we want to create caring communities. But to stay together, we must stand in a solidarity grounded in love, not fear and hate.

That’s the kind of “new normal” we need to help make our country stronger and the future brighter for ourselves, our children, our country, and the global community. The question is whether we can grow our souls to do what it takes to unite.

Cindy Estrada is vice president of the United Auto Workers.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.