Trump to Visit Western Pa.: a Contrast with VP Bush’s Visit in 1982

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Donald Trump is scheduled to visit Butler County (Pa) for another campaign rally in a few days. By the time this article is published, it may have already happened. He will probably be greeted with a large crowd as nature abhors a vacuum.

Donald’s message in 2024 is not much different than that of former Vice President Bush who also came to Butler County in 1982 to push, like Trump, a right wing pro corporate campaign theme that falsely ties the material interests of the working class and the general public to that of profit hungry corporations spanning the globe looking to increase the bottom line.

In 1982 then Vice President George Bush visited the Butler (Pa) Country Club to attend a campaign fundraiser for Eugene Atkinson, a western PA Democrat Congressional rep who switched to Republican and promoted Reaganomics. Fortunately, labor was awake and both willing and capable of mobilizing a counter rally of hundreds that forced Bush to detour via a side road.

It got national news and set the tone for the 1982 campaign message, “Caviar vs Kielbasa” that catapulted the Congressional challenger to Atkinson, Joe Kolter to victory in the rural and small town District. He then proceeded to have a better overall voting record on labor and peace issues than the urban “liberal” Democrat icon Bill Coyne of Pittsburgh.

Real independent labor, peace,women and civil rights advocates were the strength behind his campaign. Meetings of 40-50 were organized and coalesced into a Jobs Peace and Justice Caucus in the Congressional District. It helped initiate many labor, peace and public interest actions which helped shape how issues were addressed and built popular public support. Butler County voters passed a non-binding referendum for a Nuclear Weapons Freeze and labor unions in the 1980’s hosted numerous solidarity meetings here and throughout western PA with Central American labor delegations facing repression by dictators supported by the USA and the top leaders of the AFL-CIO.

This was but one Congressional District but instead of replicating and encouraging similar efforts across the nation, top Democrats and AFL-CIO officials consciously worked against such efforts.

Today, after decades of abandoning the material interests of the working class, Butler County like most of western PA and the USA’s Rust Belt is viewed as “flyover country” by hapless corporate Dems and the mainstream media who have traded the working class in for identity politics.

Unfortunately, most labor unions are simply adjuncts of their “corporate partners,” and timidly follow the Democrats. Because they have little or no class conscious vision, they possess no capacity to wage any fight back defending the public interest that is possible and desperately needed.

Insider political deals,horse trading, lobbying and access politics have proven to be a losing strategy for the mass of working people and their organizations. A new direction of organized Independent labor actions combined with a focus on mass organizing and mobilization in the public interest is what’s needed.

Work to change the balance of power in the interests of working people.

We can learn from our past. Let us not forget our history as we debate and struggle in these critical times.

No Struggle No Progress

Ed Grystar has more than 40 years experience in the labor and healthcare justice movements. He is co-founder and current chair of the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Single Payer Healthcare. Served as the President of the Butler County (PA) United Labor Council for 15 years. Has decades of experience organizing and negotiating contracts for health care employees with the Service Employees International Union and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals.