Why it would be a tragic mistake for SEIU to endorse HRC at this time.
This letter is being sent to SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and members of the IEB. This is also being cc’d to members of the Board of Directors of SEIU Local 503 in Oregon, the local to which we belong.
Unhappy with the pro-corporate/pro-Wall St. bias of the Democratic Party establishment, of which Hillary Clinton is a major player; early on we have been among the many labor activists calling for Sen. Elizabeth Warren to step up and run for President.
We have long been appreciative of the stances taken by Senator Bernie Sanders on labor issues, and on broader economic and social justice issues. However, when Sanders first announced his candidacy, many of us were unsure that he could mount a credible national campaign and candidacy. What has happened since has surprised almost everyone. The issues and values that we hold near and dear are today at the center of national discussion and in the Presidential debate. For this, we largely have Senator Bernie Sanders to thank.
We list a number of reasons below why, 1) Hillary Clinton is not our candidate, at least not in this primary period, and 2) any primary endorsement should be the result of an exhaustive process of union-wide discussion in which our International provides hard facts to our members on the actual positions and voting records of all the candidates on the issues of critical importance to us.
Is HRC as the Democratic nominee really inevitable? Perhaps, but maybe not. You might remember we were told this in 2007-08. Those bold declarations that Hillary would steamroll to the nomination didn’t bear out. Despite this, we’re now treated to the same hype from Clinton surrogates, political pundits and Democratic Party operatives who are part of the political status quo. “If you keep repeating it over and over again, it may become true.” At the moment, HRC may have a commanding lead in many polls, but it was just a short time ago the Clinton campaign was in crisis with falling poll numbers and surging Sanders numbers. Much of the recent chatter around a Biden candidacy had at least as much to do with nervousness in some quarters of the pro-corporate Democratic political establishment over HRC’s negatives as it did with Biden’s personal ambitions. While many current polls have HRC pulling ahead in primary polling, there are also recent polls that have Sanders beating Trump in the General election by slightly higher margins that HRC does. This highlights once again those nagging concerns about whether Clinton is really the best candidate to put forward in the general election.
Remember what they said about Barack Obama. Here is a link to those famous predictions from those in the political class, that Obama would NEVER get elected President: https://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/11/04/798696/-Why-Obama-will-never-ever-be-elected-president?detail=emailclassic
Who is Labor’s candidate, really? There is no contest when it comes to where each candidate stands, and I am confident that every member of the SEIU International Executive Board knows this. Bernie Sanders is Labor’s candidate, and Clinton’s positions from fair trade to Glass-Steagall to union rights to minimum wage to rolling back corporate control of our lives, and we could go on, do not even come close to Sanders’ pro-working family positions and values. He is one of us.
But the heart of the issue surrounding the endorsement is really about concerns over electability, not over who is Labor’s candidate. In addition, the reluctance of national union leadership in many unions to back Bernie may also have to do with (unspoken) concerns over retribution and denial of access to the White House should HRC win.
What about a candidates poll numbers in Communities of Color? This is another argument that has come up to dismiss Sanders’ candidacy. A few things about polling we need to remember. Poll numbers at this early stage are often more about name recognition than grasp of issues and understanding of the candidates policy positions, and I am sure I don’t need to remind anyone that a poll is but a snapshot in time, and this campaign is far from over.
True, Sanders needs to continue to make inroads into Communities of Color, but the Sanders actual record on equality and civil rights beats that of Hillary by a long shot. I’ve heard the pundits talk ad nauseum about the Hillary record on civil rights and her base in the African-American community for example without once ever hearing facts to back up those assertions. What really is her record? Bill Clinton record isn’t Hillary’s record and doesn’t count. If it did, much of that record would be negative. To the extent that Hillary has higher numbers currently in the African-American community or elsewhere, how solid and deep is that support.
Last but not least, any of us who followed the rivalry between HRC and Obama in the 2007-08 primary will remember it got increasingly bitter as the Obama lead widened. Hillary Clinton’s naked appeal to white resentment in response to the nomination slipping away should make us pause. We should not forget that HRC made a choice to ride that wave of white resentment for a while during the primary. In the end, it did not help to put her over the top. We should not whitewash that history.
Let us not sacrifice our values and our movement. This is not about the perfect being the enemy of the good. We understand compromise is often necessary and that as sensible people we can’t expect to always get 100% of our wishes granted. We have all become accustomed to settling for the lesser evil in Presidential politics. But something different is going on today. We’ve been enduring unprecedented crises and attacks on our rights and well-being. The attack on Labor is not new. It’s been going on for decades. But the ferocity of that attack has intensified in recent years.
What is new is the growing dissatisfaction with the status quo, and grassroots movements for social and economic justice have also exploded. We can’t recall a time in living memory when such movements for justice actually succeeded in setting the terms of the presidential debate, but for the first time we are finally influencing the debate. This is in part a result of SEIU nurturing these budding movements, but Bernie has been part of this movement too. And Bernie is no ordinary politician. We never had to educate or lobby Bernie. He has already been with us. No one has ever had to pressure Sanders into taking a pro-labor position.
We are witnessing what may be the One Percent’s final offensive (they hope) against Labor. The most anti-labor sections of the big money interests in our society are backing candidates willing to go for the quick kill of unions in this country. The difference between the Republican candidates and Hillary is that she does not advocate for the quick kill. Rather, HRC, despite the declaration that she wants to be a champion of working families, advocates a continuation of financial, banking and economic policies that do nothing meaningful to reform Wall St and the Finance Sector, and continues the economic path toward elimination of good jobs, and the gradual demise of the US labor movement.
The overwhelming majority of people in this country have indicated their support for economic reforms, curbing the power of Wall St., investing in jobs and infrastructure, fair trade and fair tax policies, etc.
We cannot blame it all on the Republicans for the failure to move on these issues. A major obstacle is the pro-corporate establishment that resides in, and largely controls the Democratic Party apparatus. They are not listening to our concerns. The fact that pro-Wall St. Sen. Chuck Schumer is likely to be the next Senate leader is but one more example that the Democratic Party establishment is deaf to the concerns of ordinary working people.
When Sanders first entered the race, pundits and the entire political establishment dismissed him as insignificant. The Sanders surge proved this wrong. Now they worry that the trajectory of the campaign is out of their control. Make no mistake. They not only want to stop the messenger – Bernie Sanders. They also aim to kill or coopt the message, and kneecap the movement that has propelled our issues and Bernie’s candidacy. If we are being asked to back the candidate whose aim is to help contain or cripple this movement, we should answer with a resounding ‘NO.’
After the Primary. It would not be the end of the world to endorse Sanders, or allow Locals to go their own way in the primaries, or to sit out the primaries altogether. After the primaries, it’s a new equation. If HRC does in fact get the nomination, it would be less painful than it is now to build a consensus to back HRC if that consensus is to stop Trump or Ted Cruz, or another candidate less favorable to labor. After all, at least in that case we won’t be turning our backs on a staunch ally and betraying the movement that we are part of.
Whether HRC gets an endorsement for the primary or for the general election, what do we say to our members about her? How do we explain the rationale for such an endorsement? We have given this some thought, recalling past presidential campaigns. In the event we find ourselves blocking against a Ted Cruz or a Donald Trump, I think it is high time we break with the tradition of exaggerating or stretching the truth to sell a candidate.
If we find ourselves supporting HRC in the general, let’s not sugar coat the fact that HRC is a corporate candidate. Members will appreciate being told the truth. There is already so much cynicism in the ranks about election season and the ‘packaging’ of candidates.
What about down ticket? If Hillary becomes the nominee, she does not need our money. Let’s use our financial resources down ticket to elect economic and social justice pro-labor candidates, whether Democrat or not. The problem with the HRC candidacy is also the problem of the Democratic Party corporate wing. It is past time to wean ourselves off these Wall St Democrats and be more willing to support primaries and insurgencies. No matter who wins the Democratic Party nomination and the general election, not much is going to get done without making gains in the House and Senate. And in state legislatures.
We, the undersigned sincerely hope our national leadership will read and consider these arguments and concerns. We welcome any rational argument in response to points we raise here. We do worry about the message it will send if SEIU backs the establishment candidate over a staunch labor ally in this primary. It will tell our true friends that SEIU won’t have their backs when they stand up for us. Those who are less than friends also will get the message that we don’t always stand up for our own values.
Ed Hunt, SEIU Local 503 CAPE Delegate, Local 217 Vice Chair, Local 503 Civil & Human Rights Committee
Betty Holladay, Board of Directors, SEIU Local 503, CAPE Delegate
James Jacobson, Local 503 CAPE Delegate
Lyn Wilson, Local 503 CAPE Delegate, Local 503 Civil & Human Rights Committee, Lavender Caucus
LaTricia Graf-Straw, Local 503 CAPE Delegate
Mary Stewart, Local 503 CAPE Delegate
Rose Katchadoorian, Local 503 Civil & Human Rights Committee, Lavender Caucus
Ben Gerritz, Board of Directors, SEIU Local 503, CAPE Delegate, Civil & Human Rights Committee
Wes Brain, SEIU Delegate to Southern Oregon CLC, SEIU Investment Committee
Filed under: Fair Trade, Immigrant Workers, Low wage workers, Organizing, Politics Tagged: | Bern, Bernie Sanders, Bloomberg L.P., Corporate, Democratic Party (United States), economic inequality, Flickr, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Vermont, YouGov