President-elect Joe Biden is nominating Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for labor secretary. Walsh’s history with labor goes back to his early 20s, when he joined Laborers’ Union Local 223 in Boston, a union to which his father had long belonged, and one later headed by his uncle and then by Marty himself, who went on to be the head of Boston’s Building and Construction Trades Council before becoming mayor in 2013.
Walsh was seen as a union favorite, with support from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka as well as the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. What he is not is an addition to the diversity of Biden’s Cabinet, as another top contender, California Labor and Workforce Development Agency Secretary Julie Su, would have been. (Su is also a rock star who would have done an amazing job.)
But Harold Meyerson recently made the case that Walsh is also not the your-grandfather’s-union throwback he might appear on the surface to be, coming from the very white, very very male, and comparatively conservative building trades unions.
Walsh’s “own work in that movement,” Meyerson wrote, “has been to push the trades into the 21st century. As mayor, Walsh prodded the city council to approve his proposal requiring construction companies working on public projects or private projects exceeding 50,000 square feet to have 51 percent of their workers’ hours go to city residents, 40 percent to minorities, and 12 percent to women. He has also pushed the building trades into supporting a host of progressive causes.”
There is something to be said for a labor secretary who is of the white working class but has progressive priorities.
”He’s been at the forefront when it comes to promoting people of color, making sure people of color have a fair shake,” AFSCME’s Lee Saunders told Meyerson. The AFT’s Randi Weingarten also spoke highly of Walsh’s ability to get stuff done, another important qualification.
Will Marty Walsh be the most aggressive and effective labor secretary Biden could have chosen? Eh, probably not. But don’t write him off as just another Irish-American building trades guy.
This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on January 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.
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