Bertha Lewis—founder of the Black Institute, charter member of the left-wing Working Families Party and former CEO of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now—claimed today that President Donald Trump and the Republican Party are “out to kill you,” and argued it is up to organized labor to step up and “lead the resistance.”
Speaking on a panel at Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network Convention this afternoon, Lewis argued that total Republican control of Washington constitutes a threat to all Americans, regardless of demographics. She asserted it is thus incumbent upon unions, irrespective of the makeup of their membership, to oppose the president and his party at every turn.
“This is an opportunity in the age of Trump for the labor movement to lead the resistance,” she said. “I don’t care whether you’re black, white, male or female, short, tall, the Trump administration and the Republican Party that controls the White House, the Congress and the Senate are out to kill you.”
In February, Congressmen Steve King and Joe Wilson re-introduced the National Right to Work Act, a bill that would end requirements that all employees of a unionized organization pay membership dues. Conservatives have long argued that such obligations violate workers’ right not to support the union.
Labor advocates have asserted that such laws, which have passed in 28 states nationwide, allow workers to benefit from union-negotiated contracts without paying into the organization—and thus weaken labor’s bargaining power.
Trump has expressed support for the legislation, both before and after the presidential campaign. Lewis called for unions address the threat with the same solidarity that they supported a $15 an hour minimum wage in New York and other cities.
“I was very happy that the labor movement said, ‘You know what, there’s fast food workers over there, maybe we ought to organize them because we need new members,” Lewis said. “Please, ladies and gentlemen and help us, labor movement.”
Lewis also railed against the “scourge” of charter schools, privately run learning institutions that receive public money—which Trump and his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos support.
During the panel discussion today, she spoke about the “tensions between the community and organized labor”—stressing that she was referring to individuals when she was speaking about the community. She said that as head of ACORN—a national organization that operated in low-income urban communities—she had members who were part of unions that would “call me up and stake their union out.”
She said that today, the hierarchy remains “stale, male and pale!”
As for the age of Trump, she told the crowd that there were union members that proudly backed Trump in the presidential race. And she said that while black people did not elect Trump, “the effect will be on us.” She lamented that several construction unions had agreed to meet with the president.
“We all know that certain sector of unions stood up proudly and said, ‘We are the Building Trades, we’re union and we are for Trump,” she said.”You can’t have the Building Trades be invited to the White House and service employees not up in there. Common! Strike against them, their butts for going in unless they take you with them, public and private sector unions.”
“It’s all organized labor,” she continued.
In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s victory in the presidential election, Lewis warned that racial, religious and sexual minorities should “bet on it” that they will see the worst under the Trump administration. She projected more poverty, segregation in housing and schools, violence against women and predicted that Trump will prioritize and give special treatment to the wealthy and corporations.
ACORN collapsed in 2009 following an embezzlement scandal and selectively edited tapes that appeared to show its employees engaged in criminal behavior. Independent investigations eventually cleared the group of wrongdoing, but not before Congress voted to deprive it of all federal funding, leading to its demise.