Getting Donald Trump out of office was uniquely important because his reality TV stardom allowed him to go from acting like a jerk on The Apprentice to playing a real-life authoritarian strongman. People bought into his “drain the swamp” and “I tell it like it is” rhetoric while he and his family engorged themselves on the hard-earned taxes of the working class. Joe Biden was not the first choice of most progressives, but when the full might of the national Democratic Party leadership converged to anoint him, he became our only hope.
Tens of thousands of grassroots activists lost sleep and relationships, any sense of day or night, weekend or weekday; together they pushed a not-great candidate over the finish line. No matter how uninspired people felt about Biden, there simply was no other choice. That Trump got over 70 million votes means racism and misogyny are far too ingrained in the United States to give most caring people any lasting sense of deep satisfaction. The resentments he revealed and stoked with strategic brilliance and fury will take years to overcome. Where and how do we start that process?
Trump and the forces behind him ran a vicious campaign based on division and unparalleled voter suppression. (Slowing Postal Service delivery and destroying sorting machines was a stroke of evil genius.) But division and suppression have been corporate America’s response to every unionization election in this country since at least the 1970s. As the infamous union buster Martin Jay Levitt wrote, his was “a field populated by bullies and built on deceit. A campaign against a union is an assault on individuals and a war on the truth. As such, it is a war without honor. The only way to bust a union is to lie, distort, manipulate, threaten, and always, always attack.” Because the forces behind Trump ran his 2020 campaign using the exact same strategic repertoire as union busters, it’s useful to understand what happens in the days and months after these slash-and-burn campaigns are over—assuming the workers manage to eke out a win.
As a result of the brutal nature of a union campaign, the day after their (almost always very narrow) victory, workers wake up having won their union representation with intense levels of division, mistrust, and hatreds of all kinds running high. This is despite the fact that before the campaign got under way, what relationships they had were largely positive. Yet when workers win these hard-fought unionization elections, they’ve actually won nothing, except the right to fight for their first union contract. Union busters don’t just go away after workers win the right to unionize; that first contract battle is the union busters’ second opportunity to destroy the workers’ hopes for positive change and a union. Under anti-worker US labor law, if the first contract isn’t achieved in 12 months, workers may petition for another election to throw out the union. (The analogy continues: Think about what will happen in the 2022 midterms if the Democrats don’t deliver.) For workers to win the policy changes they want, they must quickly overcome their exhaustion and repair and rebuild their stressed solidarity. And to win radical improvements—like fully funded employer-paid health care for themselves and their families, a fair-wage system that eliminates racial and gender biases with life-changing raises, and the right to not be fired because their managers don’t like them—they have to build to supermajority unity.
Removing Trump from office is only the first step on the path to policy wins. Especially because, despite the promises made by the Democratic Party that Biden was the candidate to deliver the Senate, he hasn’t done so—yet. Removing Trump is a victory worth celebrating. But now, facing a hugely empowered corporate elite, an extremist Supreme Court, and a hostile Senate (the slim chance of winning two seats in Georgia would still produce a chamber where corporate Democrats like Joe Manchin have too much sway), we need to get up from our well-earned nap and start rebuilding solidarity, fighting like hell to win the changes we must. Enough workers have proved, even in the past four years, that when we fight smart, strategically, and with discipline, we can win, even against the stiffest of odds. The transition from gaining hard-fought, highly polarized, narrow wins to transformational policy isn’t easy. But it can be done.