The AFL-CIO has launched a "Raise the Wages" campaign to talk to its members about race and Trump's politics, hoping to persuade listeners that his rhetoric hurts them economically in the end.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said it is unacceptable for the labor movement to "be in the middle of the pack" on race and immigration.
"If you are trying to raise wages for working people, you cannot do that so long as racism exists, so long as immigrants are exploited," said Trumka, AFL-CIO president on Thursday at a panel on race held in Washington, D.C. just days before the Martin Luther King Day holiday,
The AFL-CIO is the nation's largest federation of unions with some 12 million members and has vast get out the vote operations.
As part of the panel, Ian Haney López, a national expert and author on racial politics, outlined the connection between what is called dog whistle politics and right-wing attacks on the government and unions, and on how the labor movement could confront and defeat dog whistling.
Dog whistle politics describes the use of rhetoric to say one thing and mean another. Often it has referred to political rhetoric meant to instill fear of racial groups without mentioning blacks or Hispanics or the targeted group.
"We are in this pivotal moment, here, right now in 2016, where we se this sort of dangerous, divisive politics on a level we haven't seen in 50 years. I think Trump has taken it to another level," Haney López said.
"But a moment of crisis , is a moment of opportunity, because more than usual, people see we are divided by race," Haney López said.
That has provided opportunity for major liberal institutions have to change the their own response to the rhetoric: "We are not going to stay silent and we are certainly not going to imitate it," Haney-Lopez said.
Trumka said the union is knocking on doors "cold" in working class neighborhoods in America and asking people why they support Trump. He said not enough data has been gathered to answer the question, but people are saying they are attracted to him because he "speaks his mind" an "he tells it like it is."
He said his group is telling workers that his rhetoric can hurt their own economic interests. Also, a report by Haney López titled "Race and Economic Jeopardy For All: A Framing Paper for Defeating Dog Whistle Politics," is being distributed to members and members are starting to respond to the conversations around it, Trumka said.
"When a group of people are exploited, it drives everybody's wages down," Trumka said. "We've been trying to have that conversation with the American labor movement because it's not acceptable for the American labor movement to be in the middle of the pack when it comes to race or immigration."