The Bernie Sanders “political revolution” is shaking things up in the labor movement to an extent we haven’t seen in many decades.
Workers who passively went along with what the trade union leadership called for in the past are finding their own voice at long last. An army of rebels is being formed. “Labor for Bernie” is thriving, headed up by Larry Cohen, who recently retired as president of the Communications Workers of America. More than 12,000 labor activists have joined “Labor for Bernie” and are working to secure labor support for Sanders nationwide.
Sanders has gathered some significant union endorsements. National Nurses United has endorsed the Vermont senator, as have a number of local unions and other labor bodies. The Vermont State Labor Council and the South Carolina AFL-CIO have sent recommendations of endorsement to the AFL-CIO.
But that is only part of the story. The 190,000-member Amalgamated Transit Union is polling its members to ascertain whether to endorse. The Nevada Culinary Workers branch of the national Hotel Employee and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) is doing likewise. The executive council of the United Electrical Workers and the president of the American Postal Workers Union have urged their members to take a close look at the Sanders candidacy.
In addition, AFSCME and the SEIU, which had been on the verge of endorsing Hillary Clinton, have pulled back and are awaiting developments, with pro-Sanders activists clamoring for a Sanders’s endorsement. The IBEW leadership has also committed to waiting before deciding. And they are not alone in the Building Trades.
This is not all. The American Federation of Teachers and the Machinists Union have endorsed Hillary Clinton, but this has provoked a strong and visible protest by Sanders supporters who have accused the leadership of failing to consult the membership in a democratic manner.
Such dissent over a presidential endorsement is unprecedented in the house of labor.
Why Bernie Is Attracting Such Strong Labor Support
Support for Sanders is a reflection of the very real ferment in society—and in the labor movement, in particular. Sanders’ positions in favor of a $15/hr. minimum wage, Medicare for All single-payer health care, free college education, fight against climate change, and his promise to tame Wall Street and the big banks are attracting many who are dissatisfied with politics as usual. Sanders has taken strong positions against police brutality and racism, especially after the incident involving Black Lives Matter activists during his speech at a Seattle rally.
Sanders’s popularity with many in labor’s ranks is a reflection of his decades-long support for workers’ rights and opposition to “free trade” deals. His steadfast opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement has made him a champion of the fight for labor and environmental rights, and of democracy itself, against the austerity and privatization agenda of the transnational corporations. It goes without saying that Hillary Clinton (and Joe Biden) are strong advocates of TPP and have refused to take a firm stand on single-payer healthcare or the $15 minimum wage.
Because of his clear stand on burning issues facing working people, Sanders has made dramatic gains in opinion polls against Hillary Clinton. In New Hampshire, he is now 16 percentage points ahead of her. In Iowa, Sanders is now running neck-and-neck with Clinton. Sanders’ popularity with liberals, youth, and union members continues to confound Clinton’s presidential ambitions.
During a campaign swing through Western states, Sanders drew about 65,000 people to rallies in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The Labor Fightback Network does not endorse candidates in either of the two corporate parties: the Democrats and Republicans. We have stated time and again that working people and the oppressed need truly independent working class political action through the building of a party of labor and its community allies.
Also, we are concerned that Sanders has an inconsistent voting record on matters of foreign policy; sometimes supporting U.S. military adventures abroad that not only harm workers in other countries, but divert resources from essential social services he otherwise supports.
Having said that, we are genuinely energized by the fact that Sanders has mobilized huge and growing support for single payer, $15 an hour and a union, and against TPP.
This shows the real potential for mobilizing large numbers of people, with labor and community in the forefront, in defense of the demands championed by Sanders and movements such as Black Lives Matter.
What is of paramount importance is that in all of his speeches Sanders emphasizes that this is not about him but about the indispensable need to mobilize millions.
The Sanders “political revolution” thus provides a huge opening for advocates of independent labor-community politics to find common action with Bernie Sanders supporters to build lasting mass-action coalitions in support of such issues as single-payer, a $15 minimum wage, labor rights for all—and opposition to TPP.
The key is building these movements, since without these movements even the best office-holders will be unable to carry out platforms that seriously challenge the ruling class agenda.
Only such independent mass movements in the streets, with effective and democratically controlled labor-community coalitions at the helm, can turn the tide in favor of working people and the oppressed. In turn, they can lay the basis for launching independent labor-community slates at the local level. Such coalitions can be the beginning of a campaign to build a real mass-action and independent electoral movement.