Billionaire Trump Claims Steelworker Status

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Donald Trump stomped into my backyard just days before July 4 and claimed to be a steelworker.

That’s right. The billionaire, whose manicured little hands routinely slip into lambskin golf gloves but never once donned heavy-duty work mitts, actually claimed to be a steelworker.

He did it in a speech at a scrap metal processing plant in Monessen, a down-on-its-luck steel town 30 miles south of Pittsburgh, which is home to my union, the United Steelworkers.  

The guy who brags, “I am really rich,” the man who describes a million-dollar loan from his daddy as “small,” wants to climb out of his private luxury sky box now and sit in the nosebleed seats with the hard-working, blue-collar rust-belters who sweat over mortgage payments. It’s a joke. It’s a British royalist claiming to be an American colonist. 

Remember those colonists? They were a motley crew of farmers and fur trappers and blacksmiths of different religions, cultures, languages and states. On July 4, 1776, they declared their independence from the tyranny of royalists. They demanded freedom to govern themselves in the best interests of the majority. They refused to continue to serve at the pleasure and profit of the crown and men of inherited wealth, title and privilege.

Now the United States has its own royalists, men like Donald Trump who inherited wealth and use it to influence politics for their personal financial benefit. And since the wrong-headed Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, billionaires like Trump have gained even more power as political puppeteers because they’re free now to bathe candidates in gold.

Money is indirect – though pretty darn effective – control over politicians. If Donald Trump is elected President, though, the 1 percent will gain direct control. They’ll have their own billionaire in the White House.

Here is what Trump said about himself when he visited Monessen:

“Globalization has made the financial elite, who donate to politicians, very, very wealthy. I used to be one of them. I hate to say it, but I used to be one.”

No, Donald Trump didn’t used to be one of them. He remains one of them. He is still a billionaire. He still produces Trump Collection clothes and trinkets overseas, in places like China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Turkey and Slovenia. Trump still takes personal financial advantage of globalization. And he still donates to politicians. This time, it’s mostly his own campaign.

But Trump can’t get elected relying on votes from only 1 percent of the population. He needs a few more than that. And that’s why he’s styling himself as a steelworker.

Get a load of this statement he made after praising the legacy of steelworkers in Monessen and condemning politicians for failing to stop foreign mills from dumping illegally subsidized steel in the American market, a persistent practice which has shuttered U.S. steel mills and killed U.S. steelworker jobs:

 “For years, [politicians] watched on the sidelines as our jobs vanished and our communities were plunged into Depression-level unemployment.”

Our jobs vanished? Donald Trump, I serve steelworkers. I know steelworkers. Steelworkers are friends of mine. Donald Trump, you are no steelworker.

Our communities were plunged into Depression-level unemployment? No rust-belt steelworker has ever seen Donald Trump before he wanted something from them – their vote. Dog-eared rust-belt towns aren’t Donald Trump communities.

He lives a little more upscale, in West Palm Beach, where he owns an estate valued at more than $200 million and New York City, where he owns a penthouse valued at $100 million.

After Monessen, Trump went to Ohio where he gave another speech about trade, including this statement:

"The Trans-Pacific Partnership is another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country. . .That's what it is, too. It's a harsh word – it's a rape of our country. This is done by wealthy people that want to take advantage of us and that want to sign another partnership."

It’s done by “wealthy people” Trump said, as if he were not one of them, as if Donald Trump were not a billionaire.

It’s done to take “advantage of us,” Trump said, as if the man who brags about being a billionaire were a victim, as if he were a blue-collar worker who had lost his job when his factory was off-shored.

In fact, it is the opposite. It is Donald Trump off-shoring jobs. It is Donald Trump taking full advantage of globalization. It is Donald Trump, to this day, putting profit before patriotism.

Even as he condemns NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, Donald Trump is taking full personal financial advantage of all of those trade deals. He wants to build a wall, but he makes his suits in Mexico. He vilifies China, but that’s where he manufactures his neckties. He produces other Trump Collection products in slave-wage, high-pollution countries like Vietnam and Indonesia and Bangladesh.

He could have manufactured them in America. He could have created American jobs. It’s not impossible. Trump comforters and cologne are produced in the United States. But he chose to produce the vast majority of Trump merchandise overseas with foreign workers.

One of the men who helped Trump go overseas recalls the process. Jeff Danzer, who was vice president of a company hired by Trump a decade ago to find a manufacturer of signature clothing, told the Washington Post that Trump had qualifications, but he never specified that he wanted the clothing made in America.

Trump wasn’t concerned about blue-collar workers or rust-belt towns then. His only patriotism was to his own pocket.

And that’s where it remains. The vast majority of the factories that produce Trump merchandise, and the jobs associated with them, remain off shore.

He’s no steelworker. No steelworker would manufacture overseas after watching his brothers and neighbors and friends lose jobs because of off-shored factories and unfairly traded imports. No steelworker would betray fellow workers that way.

But Donald Trump doesn’t know what that kind of betrayal would feel like because he has never been a blue-collar worker. His soft hands have never felt the rough insides of work gloves. Donald Trump is the birthright financial elite. He is a billionaire royalist trying to take over America.  

Leo W. Gerard also is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiation and the President's Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee 2.0. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute.  He is a member of the executive committee for IndustriALL Global Labor federation and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union. Follow @USWBlogger

Posted In: From the USW International President