The head of the largest U.S. labor union federation tried to pre-empt Donald Trump’s planned speech on trade on Tuesday, saying the Republican presidential candidate was full of “empty promises” as he tried to make inroads with working-class voters.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka – a top ally of Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton – said at a trade conference in Washington that, at Trump campaign stops in the Rust Belt states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, voters should expect to hear “crocodile tears about lost jobs and shuttered factories.”
“Trump embodies everything that is wrong with our current trade policy. He has consistently sent American jobs overseas to line his own pockets,” Trumka said, apparently referring to Trump-branded products such as suits and ties that are made abroad.
Trumka’s rebuke occurred just hours before the New York businessman made a speech attacking Clinton’s record on trade, followed by a stop in Ohio.
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In a prepared speech delivered in a former steel town in Pennsylvania, Donald Trump denounced the “financial elite” and the “failed trade policies.” He said he’d reject proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. “Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very, very wealthy … but it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache,” Trump said.
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Both Clinton and Trump are battling over blue-collar voters ahead of the Nov. 8 election in states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, which Democratic President Barack Obama won twice but which have been hard-hit by manufacturing job losses. Trumka has acknowledged that Trump’s populist rhetoric could appeal to Rust Belt workers.
Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, struggled with these voters in her primary race against U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who criticized her for supporting trade deals and said she was too close to Wall Street.
But when the AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 unions that collectively represent more than 12 million workers, formally endorsed Clinton for president earlier this month, Trumka warned of the “dire consequences” posed by Trump’s candidacy.
Trumka acknowledged on Tuesday that Clinton was pushed to reject the pending 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership during her primary campaign after pressure from progressives within her party, including Sanders, who now says he will vote for Clinton in November although he has not withdrawn from the race.
Fortune staff contributed to this report.