Marty Walsh, formerly the mayor of Boston, was confirmed as labor secretary on Monday in a 68 to 29 vote. Walsh was the head of the Boston Building Trades Council before being elected mayor. He was elected after starting his working life in construction, a member of Laborer’s Local 223—a local he went on to lead. He sounds like the stereotype of a working-class white guy union member, right? But Harold Meyerson has argued that Walsh has been an effective bridge, working “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.”
And check out Walsh himself in a post-confirmation interview with The Washington Post, where he was blunt about how systemic racism has affected workers of color: “Money is one, but look around many offices and just see who’s working in them, who has opportunities. I mean, right after George Floyd got killed I had a meeting with a group of people in my office called BEN, the Black Employee Network. And I just listened. And every single person that spoke to me talked about the racism that they’ve experienced in their life, whether it’s in jobs, interviewing, whether it’s with the police, whether it’s with society. I think that it’s important at this moment in time to listen [and] be very intentional about the policies or the actions that we take.”
”Absolutely. There’s no question” that Walsh himself has benefited from white privilege, he said, and, “White people shouldn’t be afraid of the word white privilege. It can be a complicated conversation to have, but we can’t run away from it.”
We’ll see what he does, but having a lifelong union guy who has spent years pushing one of the more conservative parts of the labor movement toward progressive causes as labor secretary seems promising.