By Claude Cummings, Jr.
As this was being written, I was proudly representing Communications Workers of America’s members during the 52nd Annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Legislative Conference. Since its inception, the CBC has passionately supported the interests of the Black community and worked to ensure that we have an equal voice in public policy. And its members, currently all Democrats, have been equally powerful allies of labor unions as vehicles of racial justice.
At the same time, I was deeply disappointed to learn of the actions of two other high-profile black elected officials: U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, a Republican, and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, a former Democrat. I have characterized their bad behavior, respectively, as Disrespect and Deception.
Let’s start with the “disrespect” that Tim Scott exhibited toward members of the United Auto Workers. Scott, one of two Black Senators and the only Republican, is now a low-polling challenger to frontrunner Donald Trump for his party’s presidential nomination.
When asked to comment on the UAW strike, he responded: “You strike, you’re fired!” He went on to cite Ronald Reagan’s controversial firing of striking air traffic controllers back in 1981. In his decision, Reagan invoked a law prohibiting strikes by federal employees.
Well, Mr. Scott, the UAW strikers, led by President Shawn Fain, are not government employees and are not subject to that law. Their right to strike is protected by the National Labor Relations Act. They are hard-working people who made great concessions almost 15 years ago to help save the American auto industry and keep family-supporting jobs in their communities.
Their sacrifices brought the industry back with record-breaking profits that largely supported very generous salaries and bonuses for their bosses and huge returns for Wall Street investors. But the workers’ well-deserved demands to restore their benefits and wages and ensure equal pay for equal work went unmet for years.
That’s why I’ll be on the UAW picket line in Detroit on Tuesday when Joe Biden becomes the first American president to join striking workers on the line. Yes, Joe not only talks the talk. He walks the walk of a real “union guy.” And we must return that loyalty in the 2024 election.
Now to the blatant “Deception” of Dallas mayor Eric Johnson, who recently switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. As shocking as this may have been to those constituents whom he deceived into supporting him for a second term in a solidly blue city, it was not surprising to me.
As a politically observant Texan, I saw how he had used the Democrat label for years to get elected and then pushed a GOP agenda – espousing their hard line on issues from law-and-order to tax cuts. The party switch just confirmed the way he had been leading for years, while strongly criticizing his former party’s governance of cities.
But Houston’s Major Sylvester Turner, who was also unaware of Johnson’s deception, cites his own record in Houston in reducing crime, homelessness and addressing other urban challenges firmly, but more compassionately. “Democratic mayors are the boots on the ground,” he says. “We are responding to people’s needs.”
Eric Johnson’s betrayal of loyal supporters in Dallas raises a red flag in Houston too. Much like Johnson, a mayoral candidate in Houston appears to be counting on the loyalty of some Labor supporters and other mainstream progressives while adding poisonous side elements of anti-worker, anti-justice, and forced birthers funded by pay-to-play partisan Republicans.
So how do we respond to these perpetrators of disrespect and deception? First, we let Sen. Scott know that union members across this country will not forget his uninformed and dismissive response to the UAW’s legitimate strike for fairness.
As for Mayor Johnson, whatever he plans to do after his tenure is over, we will make sure no one forgets his treachery in Dallas and that he is a politician who can never ever be trusted. And all the while, we must be on guard to make sure Johnson’s betrayal in Dallas doesn’t serve as a political template in the upcoming Houston Mayoral election or anywhere else.