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Trumka Questioned on Wisconsin, Two-Party System, Journalism and Obama

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, stopped by the National Press Club this afternoon. Trumka underlined the need for economic equality in a 30 minute address before fielding questions submitted by the audience and selected by NPC President Mark Hamrick.

Hamrick asked variations of three questions submitted by IPA. Here’s a transcript of those exchanges:

Building on Wisconsin:
Hamrick: So back to your speech, someone asked, “What is your game plan to spread the spirit of the Wisconsin protest to other parts of the country?’”
Trumka: We’re out there every day, educating and mobilizing. And it’s not just in Wisconsin. We have cross-pollinated Wisconsin people with Ohio people, with Missouri, with Tennessee, with Indiana. We’ve gone all over the country. And people are mobilized. And it’s not just union people, it’s working people in general. Small business people are out there supporting us. Non-union workers are out there supporting us because they think these people have gone too far in trying to pay back their rich donors by destroying the rights of workers out there. So we’re taking that message everywhere. We’re seeing it take effect. And apparently, we’re doing something right, because guys like Scott Walker, his ratings in his own state have fallen like a big rock in a small pond. They think he’s going too far.

Beyond the Two Party System:
Hamrick: So people want to know how far you’re willing to go. You’ve mentioned the need for independence from Democrats before. Could this manifest itself in support for third parties, such as the Green and Labor Parties?
Trumka: Was there a question there?
Hamrick: In other words, are you willing to look beyond the two-party
structure? Absolutely.
Trumka: Here is what we’re looking at doing. We’re looking at training workers, too, and recruiting workers to be candidates. So that, in primaries, we have real choice. We’re going to give that a real whirl to see what happens.
Hamrick: So is that an answer, that you’d look at third-party candidates? Absolutely?
Trumka: If they were supporting working people, we would look at third party candidates. We would look at all the candidates that are out there. That’s what we’re paid to do. And we decide which one is the best for our members. And we would support the one that’s the best for our workers.
Hamrick: Do you need to look to alternative solutions outside the traditional structure? Is the current structure getting the job done?
Trumka: No. How much time do we have left here? [laughter] That’s a longer conversation.
Hamrick: You’re a very succinct speakers.
Trumka: Because if you want to look at the system, the system is broken. The Supreme Court helped break it even more with Citizens United. The system needs to be changed so that average, ordinary Americans can have as strong a voice as Exxon Mobil does in the Congress. It needs to be changed…

Labor-Backed Journalism:
Hamrick: And then the questioner says: “We have lots of corporate business-owned media. Other than specialty magazines, why aren’t there labor union-backed news organizations doing reporting, investigative reporting, with beat reporters?” So I guess that gets to the ownership of a news media properties.
Trumka: Well, first of all, it comes down to resources. in order to do a news media, whether faceted, whether it’s print media, written, radio, whatever it is, it takes a lot of resources. And, at the time, we don’t have the resources to be able to spread them around in all those different directions.
But let me ask you this question. Let’s assume that we owned a network, the Labor Network. What would be the first shot you guys took at us? And what would be the first shot that most conservatives do? ‘You can’t listen to those guys. That’s labor.’ An independent press is a good thing. An independent press that is a watchdog on those that are out there, with responsibility to workers, whether it’s at the federal level, the state level, or anywhere else is a good thing. Pack journalism is not a good thing. And the fact that you guys are getting squeezed with money and can’t do the type of investigative stuff that you used to do is a tragedy for the country. And networks like Fox are really entertainment. They’re not actually networks, because their perspective is so slanted towards things.
Now, I don’t say that about every one of the journalists on Fox, because I think they have some real independent journalists that I think do a credible job. But, by and large, the network and the programming is awfully slanted away from working people. And that’s a tragedy.

In addition to those exchanges, Trumka also answered one of our other questions following a separate question from Hamrick. We wanted to know how he’d assess the Obama administration’s commitment to protecting worker health and safety. Trumka provided something of a report card for the president, saying:

Grading Obama:
Trumka: Well, there’s a lot of subjects, whenever I got report cards, anyway. Most of my grades were the same in each subject, so it didn’t much matter. But, you know, it all depends on what you’re doing. If you look at enforcing health and safety laws, I think the President gets an A. I think if you’re talking about enforcing trade laws, he gets an A. Negotiating trade laws, he’s down on the scale there. He’s not going to get on the honor roll with that one. [laughter] For direction, I think an A. For execution, well, he doesn’t make the honor roll again with that one. But there is a lot of variables there, some of which are way beyond his control. I mean, you got a determined opposition that says no to any taxes and things of that sort. And that’s not his fault. But I hope that– and we all fight a little harder to create jobs in this country. And I think you’ll see him, over the next several months, making jobs the centerpiece of what he tries to accomplish.
Hamrick: So he’d make your Deans List? No C’s?
Trumka: Well, I’d say it’s finals week. We’ll see. [laughter]

Text based on transcript provided by NPC.