by Michael Hirsch, Saulo Colón, Murray Schneider and Lois Weiner
[ed. note: This essay is a response to two articles that appeared in the New Labor Forum following the presidential election in November.
Updating a pre-election article AFT President Randi Weingarten and Albert Shankar Institute President Leo Casey defended the support that the AFT and many labor union leaders provided Hillary Clinton in the primary and general elections. http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2016/11/22/on-the-contrary-american-labor-and-the-2016-elections
In an addendum to his earlier article, Larry Cohen, chairperson of the Our Revolution Board, suggested that Bernie Sanders might have won the general election, and proposed a way forward for labor through Our Revolution.
These authors criticize Weingarten, Casey and Cohen, while also setting forth their views on how organized labor should proceed in the Trump era.]
The exchange between Larry Cohen and Randi Weingarten and Leo Casey focuses on what organized labor could and should have done differently so as to avoid Donald Trump’s victory. Bernie Sanders was the obvious choice for all of labor. He was a candidate custom-made for the movement, and he handed himself to labor’s leaders ready to wear, running as a Democrat rather than an independent.
Unlike Hillary Clinton, a one-time member of the Walmart board of directors, Sanders has been a lifelong friend of labor with the record to prove it. It was Sanders who represented the leftwing of the possible, not Clinton. Moreover, a Sanders presidency was certainly possible, especially at the early stage at which the AFT leadership made its peremptory and undemocratic endorsement of Clinton.
Labor officials, such as Weingarten as well as many others, in refusing to endorse Bernie Sanders while grossly exaggerating Hillary’s viability and worthiness for top office, share responsibility for the Trump victory.
While we agree with Cohen that Sanders was labor’s natural candidate, Cohen’s analysis misses an essential lesson for unions about backward social attitudes our society, workers, and union members harbor, and how unions must address these toxic prejudices.