Labor for Bernie: Our Revolution is Just Getting Started

by Peter Olney and Rand Wilson

wilson dnc

 DNC, photo by Rand Wilson

Now that the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia has ended with Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee, Bernie Sanders’ campaign for “political revolution” moves to its next phase.

Everyone who supported Labor for Bernie is very proud of the of the unprecedented grassroots effort to rally rank-and-file members on his behalf. A network of tens of thousands of supporters (largely recruited via the Labor for Bernie website and social media), campaigned in nearly every union to get trade union organizations to endorse Bernie.

By the end of the campaign, six national unions and 107 state and local union bodies endorsed Bernie. Just as importantly, Labor for Bernie activists kept many Internationals and the AFL-CIO on the sidelines during the primaries; enabling their members to more actively support Bernie.

But it wasn’t just about endorsements. Labor for Bernie was an all-volunteer army; a movement of members and leaders who took on the labor establishment. Labor for Bernie activists formed cross-union groups in dozens of states and many cities. They generated strong working class support for Bernie’s candidacy and carried his message into thousands of workplaces. They worked independently of the Sanders campaign, but in tandem with it.

Particularly in the later primaries (WI, IN, PA, CA) workplace outreach helped to identify new Bernie supporters and get them to turnout on Primary Day. In many states, the majority of union households went for Bernie, often accounting for his margin of victory.

Democratic National Convention

More than 250 Labor for Bernie delegates from 37 states attended the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia (and undoubtedly there were many more). Labor for Bernie leaders played a key role in fighting for a more progressive platform and for changes in the rules that could make the Democratic Party a more open and populist party in the future.

These changes were negotiated between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns just prior to the convention. As a result, there was little for the Sanders’ delegates to do at the convention. Yet despite the compromise agreement on the platform, there was widespread concern among delegates that the platform didn’t have strong enough language opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

A Labor for Bernie leader from Illinois printed up 2,000 “No TPP” signs. The printer folded them twice so that our network of delegates could more easily smuggle them onto the convention floor.

When the platform came up for a vote, Labor for Bernie helped orchestrate “No T-P-P” chanting by the delegates that briefly brought the convention to a standstill. It captured the attention of the national news media.

Outside the convention there were spirited mass rallies in support of Bernie’s candidacy and the environmental and labor issues brought forward during the campaign. National Nurses United organized a forum on Medicare for All. Union supporters held a forum on organizing to stop passage of the TPP during the Congressional “lame duck” session after the November 8 election.

The small but feisty Working Families Party hosted a forum with speakers discussing ways to build an autonomous and independent faction inside the Democratic Party. Democratic Socialists of America had a standing room only session on the lessons of the Sanders campaign.

Delegates were grouped by their state both on the convention floor and in their hotels. There were obvious and deep differences in the political perspectives of the Sanders and Clinton delegates. One group apparently satisfied by the status quo in the Democratic Party, the other determined to change it. Sanders’ delegates often felt they were “crashing” someone else’s party.

Just prior to the start of the convention, WikiLeaks revealed emails showing widespread favoritism and manipulation by the Democratic National Committee to assist Clinton in the primaries. This confirmation of what many already suspected enraged many Sanders delegates and at times tensions flared in arguments both about the conduct of the party and debates on the issues.

The shared experience among the 1,900 Sanders delegates may be the one of the most important lasting outcomes of the convention.

The political revolution doesn’t end in Philadelphia

Union members allied with Labor for Bernie now face the dual challenge of decisively defeating Donald Trump and stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty.

Yet, as Bernie argued at the Convention, we can’t allow this election to become only about the differences between Trump and Clinton. Wherever possible, we have to continue to inject our issues into this general election campaign.

And that’s where “Our Revolution,” a new organization that is emerging from the Sanders’ campaign, comes in. It will continue to bring together a new majority for economic and social change by supporting candidates at the local, state, and national level who support the mission, issues and values of the Sanders campaign.

Sen. Sanders will provide more specifics in a “live stream” video presentation set for the evening of August 24. Many of Bernie’s volunteers in the labor movement will be hosting events in their union halls or living rooms to help kick off “Our Revolution” and lead this effort.

The Sanders’ campaign showed how unions might engage in politics in ways that enhances membership involvement and organizational clout, rather than reducing it. When labor organizations decide to endorse candidates, after a democratic process open to the entire rank-and-file, it changes the whole dynamic of union-based political activism. As a labor network strongly in favor of this approach, there will be a continuing need at the local, state, and national level to back electoral campaigns inspired by Bernie’s run for president.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Peter Olney is retired Organizing Director of the ILWU. He has been a labor organizer for 40 years in Massachusetts and California. He has worked for multiple unions before landing at the ILWU in 1997. For three years he was the Associate Director of the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California.

Rand Wilson has worked as a union organizer and labor communicator for more than twenty five years and is  currently an organizer with SEIU Local 888 in Boston. Wilson was the founding director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice.  Active in electoral politics, he ran for state Auditor in a campaign to win cross-endorsement (or fusion) voting reform and establish a Massachusetts Working Families Party.  He is President of the Center for Labor Education and Research, and is on the board of directors of the ICA Group, the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund and the Center for the Study of Public Policy

Reposted from the Stansbury Forum

Continuing the Political Revolution

by Larry Cohen

Bernie Sanders has announced his support for Hillary Clinton for Democratic presidential nominee. It’s a moment both to take stock of our gains and to think ahead. Sanders’ insurgent campaign has made a remarkable impact, but the political revolution it started is far from over.

This past weekend, the 187-member Democratic Platform Committee cleaned up some sections of the draft platform, but there is no mistaking the results for the political revolution.

The clean-up was significant, improving language on climate change, trade policy and healthcare reform. Most significantly, the demands now include Sanders’ calls for a public option, a $15 minimum wage, and free tuition at public universities for families with incomes under $125,000 a year.

Not that the initial version, produced by the 15-member Platform Drafting Committee on June 25, lacked good points. It included planks on ensuring voting rights and getting money out of politics, expanding the post office to check cashing and other financial services, and passing a modern Glass-Steagall Act to separate investment and commercial banking. The drafters also called for significant investment in infrastructure and renewable energy, the abolition of the death penalty, and expanding rather than cutting Social Security benefits (though they were vague on how to pay for that).

After a year on the road with Bernie’s campaign, I am proud of all of this, but yearn for what may have been: not just a better platform but the political revolution writ large as Sanders vs. Trump, a working-class candidate versus a billionaire.

While the platform is likely the most progressive ever, with enormous thanks to Bernie and his supporters, it will likely stop short of satisfying the tens of thousands who campaigned for him and the 12 million who voted for him.  There is no proposal to end fracking; Medicare for all was voted down; and the platform does not support an end to new Israeli settlements in Gaza or the West Bank.

The section on trade is in many ways the most disappointing. Unlike the other platform goals, which require a progressive Congress—at best years away—trade is initiated by the president. Right now, that president is a Democrat who is counting on the Republicans to provide most of the votes for his Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which will cost millions of American jobs and accelerate the global race to the bottom.

Increasingly it seems that President Obama, determined to pass TPP as part of his legacy despite overwhelming opposition from Democrats and skepticism from the American public, sees the post-election lame duck session of Congress as his best chance. Fast-track for the TPP, passed a year ago by the Republican Congress, allows President Obama discretion to send it to Congress and then requires an up or down vote in the Senate and the House within 90 days. That gives Obama two options: If he sends the TPP to Congress in early September, Congress will be required to vote before adjournment at the end of the year. If he waits until November, it will be up to the Republican leaders to bring it to a vote in lame duck or let the clock run out.

At this critical time, Bernie Sanders and his platform committee appointees, were determined that the Democratic Party platform explicitly express opposition to the TPP. As it turned out, the Clinton campaign honored the demands of the White House and vigorously pressured its platform committee appointees to support the president and avoid outright opposition to the TPP.  Public employee union leaders led that effort despite universal labor opposition to the TPP including that of their own unions.

While the trade language adopted on Saturday is far better than that in the initial platform draft, including general opposition to corporate-oriented trade, the failure to explicitly oppose the TPP means the president will be able to lobby Democrats to vote for the TPP without violating his own party’s platform. Since some Republicans oppose the TPP, those Democratic votes could be decisive in securing lame duck passage. Meanwhile Donald Trump can claim that his opposition to the TPP is clear and that Hillary Clinton is only talking about opposing the deal and not acting when it counts.

The Sanders delegation will now pivot from the platform to the Democratic Party rules—issues like eliminating the nominating power of “super” delegates.  The Rules Committee meets next week, and once again the debate will be about change vs. continuity and the populist moment vs. the party establishment.

The future of the political revolution, however, goes far beyond the platform, rules, convention or even the 2016 election.  In the next two weeks, Bernie Sanders will begin to describe how his massive organization of millions can function beyond this moment and help build a movement for social and economic change.  Bernie’s revolution has brought us much further than anyone expected. Who would have ever believed the stated objectives of the Democratic Party would include a public option or free tuition? The question for millions of Bernie supporters is how to keep this going both inside and outside of the party, in the Congress and state legislatures, but also in the streets.

 

Nurse Union Activist Runs for Vermont House

by Paul Garver

Mari_on_Verizon_Picket_Line_2016-05-15_at_10.46.13_AM

Labor for Bernie activist and now legislative candidate Mari Cordes shown at right, with Senator David Zuckerman, Progressive candidate for VT Lt. Governor and Matt Dunne, Democratic candidate for Governor, at recent Verizon strike solidarity event in Burlington.

We received this letter from seven leading activists of Labor for Bernie with connections to Vermont:

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

We are writing on behalf of Mari Cordes, a working nurse in Burlington, Vermont and past president of the 2,000-member AFT-affiliated RN union at UVM Medical Center. Click here to learn more about her.

Mari was an early supporter of Labor for Bernie. She was instrumental in securing her state federation’s support for his campaign and joined other members in lobbying the American Federation of Teachers to back Bernie’s presidential bid.

Mari is now running for office herself, as part of the surge of interest in local progressive politics generated by Bernie’s national campaign. She is running for the Vermont State House of Representatives from the Addison-4 District (the towns of Lincoln, Starksboro, Monkton, and Bristol).

She is campaigning, in part, based on her past labor-related work as a statewide leader of the Vermont Progressive Party and board member of the Vermont Workers Center. She has been one of Vermont’s leading advocates for single-payer health care, workers’ rights, and other causes, including environmental protection. (She is treasurer of the 350.org Vermont board.)

Like Bernie, in his campaign for president, Mari is relying on small individual donations. You can donate by sending a check (made out to “Mari Cordes for Vermont House”) to Donna Bailey, Campaign Treasurer, 298 Biddle Rd., Lincoln VT. 05443

Or contribute on line, via ActBlue, at: https://secure.actblue.com/entity/fundraisers/43597

In our individual capacity as former or current labor organization representatives, we urge your strong support for Mari’s exciting campaign. With help from fellow Labor for Bernie activists, she can become part of the growing bloc of progressive state legislators in Vermont in January.

Mari is currently seeking organizational endorsements from some of our own unions in Vermont and others. If you can help her with this effort or assist her campaign in any other way, in addition to donating, please feel free to contact her at: in…@maricordes.org

Best wishes and thanks for your help!

Ellen David Friedman, former organizer, VT-NEA

Steve Early, former New England representative, Communications Worker of America

Don Trementozzi, president, CWA Local 1400

Traven Leyshon, president Green Mountain Central Labor Council (signing in a personal capacity)

Heather Riemer, AFT-Vermont organizer

Rand Wilson, former SEIU organizer in Vermont

Based on this endorsement from trusted colleagues in Labor for Bernie, I had already decided to contribute when I looked at Mari’s own description of her other activities while working as a skilled nurse in cardiology.  This made me even more happy to support her candidacy.  Mari is involved in

Buddhism

Music (making, and listening)

Outdoor Activities

Homesteading (gardening-food and medicinal crops, laying hens)

Travel – have traveled extensively in India, Africa and many other countries.  Worked for 2 months as an RN with the Vermont Global Village Project in a village in Ghana, West Africa.  Coordinated 2 Buddhist Pilgrimages in India for a Tibetan Buddhist Lama.

I live in the Green Mountains with my husband in a completely off-the-grid (solar, wind) home that we built together.

Vice President – Health Care, AFT-Vermont

One, two, many Mari Cordes!

 

Bernie and Beyond 2016

by Peter Olney, for Labor for Bernie

labor for bernie

Now is the time to unite in a new force for a democratic economy.

The Sanders’ campaign has been a roaring success in igniting the passion of the American people for a progressive, anti-corporate agenda. It has resonated deeply with the working class because Bernie “walks the talk” that union members hear between elections. While many primaries still remain and the July Democratic convention looms, it is not too soon to start planning beyond Bernie, win or lose.

The cardinal question remains: Can the progressive left in the United States coalesce around a strategy that develops a permanent and ongoing presence in the political arena at the national, state and local level. Yes we can!

Unions, political organizations, community groups, worker centers, immigrant rights groups and organizations advocating for people of color, women and LGBT rights that consider the following statements to be true have an opportunity to come together around a common strategic vision:

1. America suffers from too great a concentration of wealth and power that is corrupting our democracy.

2. As a nation we must proactively address the historical and pressing problems of
discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation.

3. Our permanent war economy and militarized foreign policy is not bringing us closer to genuine “national security.” Our national priorities must shift to new investments in education and infrastructure, the expansion of Social Security, and Medicare for all.

4. Global climate change requires a massive shift in energy and employment policies. We are currently frittering away our opportunities to develop energy sources and new jobs that won’t further degrade the planet.

5. Unions and other worker organizations are crucial bastions in the fight against inequality and essential to any viable political initiative. Therefore the defense of the right to organize and of labor’s right to promote working class interests in the political sphere must be central to any progressive project.

Unity around the aforementioned general principles could provide an opportunity to work together on a common political strategy during national, state and local elections. One crucial component of such a strategy is to run or support candidates who support these principles in primary races (usually, but not exclusively, in the Democratic Party).

As the Sanders’ campaign has shown, the best antidote to the political corruption now allowed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is to “unite citizens” and support candidates who stand for these principles and campaign without the Wall Street support that dominates both major parties.

This primary strategy would be complementary to other political strategies like issue oriented initiatives and referenda, independent campaigns in “nonspoiler”
situations or nonpartisan elections, fusion, recall or “insurrectionary” movements a la Chicago. All these strategies are geared to the goal of eventually having a “party of our own.”

Labor unions will be central to moving this political project forward. The labor movement provides a base in the working class and the necessary savvy and resources to drive a “primary strategy.” However, labor, under relentless assault from the same corporate interests and billionaires that pollute our political process, cannot do it alone. It must share leadership with other dynamic social movement organizations, especially those representing immigrants and communities of color. There is also room to learn from organizations like the Working Families Party, National People’s Action and Progressive Democrats of America, etc. These groups (and many others) should be enlisted to share their experience, embrace the strategic approach to be a coordinated force in electoral primaries and other political arenas and “sign on” in unity with the five basic principles.

To continue supporting the political revolution and work constructively in broader coalition groups, the five national unions and over 90 local unions that have endorsed Bernie Sanders could form the core of a new and coherent union political formation. Once formed, other national unions and many locals would undoubtedly be attracted to it.

Most importantly, such a formation could play a leading role in the broader grouping that Sanders and the tens of millions of his supporters rightly expect to emerge from the campaign to carry on his vision and much needed change.

To move this vision forward it will be necessary for the unions that have embraced Bernie and the call for political revolution to stick together and agree to provide sufficient resources to coordinate our work. It will require union leadership forming a coordinating body and staff to begin implementing a unifying program in selected campaigns at the state and national level.

We are in a unique political moment. Our movement can’t afford to miss this opportunity. The whole world is watching!

Peter Olney retired from serving the International Longshore and Warehouse Union as Organizing Director. ILWU has endorsed Bernie Sanders for President. Peter is now working with the Labor for Bernie organization.

Organizing for a Sanders endorsement from an SEIU Local

by Russ Weiss-Irwin

seiu for bernie

I just wanted to share a hopeful little story from my hopeful little SEIU local, tucked away in Central NJ. I’m a food service worker at Princeton University, and together with 425 or so other blue collar Princeton workers, I’m part of SEIU Local 175. I’m pretty new on the job; just moved to the area from NYC in August, only started working in my current position in November, while many of my coworkers have been here for years or even decades. However, I’m a socialist, a big-time fan of Bernie, and I’ve never been one to be shy about my politics, so a lot of people on the job have heard me talk about him. Nevertheless, I’ve been a little nervous to try to push my local to endorse him, because I’m so new and don’t know how everything works yet.

Last weekend, however, I went to the Labor Notes conference in Chicago and attended the Labor for Bernie session and heard a report from an IBEW member, Carl Shaffer, who talked about how one of the most politically important endorsements Bernie has gotten from a union so far was from the IBEW local in Kansas City, MO, because it was decisive in helping prevent a national IBEW endorsement of Clinton, which in turn helped block a national AFL-CIO endorsement. And apparently the push for the KC endorsement was led, improbably, by a 27-year-old woman apprentice. The message that even a very junior person in the union can make a difference hit home. So I thought to myself, “If she can do it, I should at least try!”

Then, just a couple days after I got back to work, I was taking my break with some coworkers and we were talking about various things, and the topic turned to retirement. One of my coworkers, who grew up in Haiti, was asking how the Social Security system works. We began to explain it, and I started to say how unfair it is that millionaires are all taxed as if they make only $118,000 for the purposes of SS, while everyone else is taxed for every dollar we earn. Before I even finished, another coworker, a middle-aged white woman, said “That’s Bernie’s whole thing, right? Get rid of the SS tax cap?” And she started to talk about how much she supports Bernie. The Haitian coworker who started the conversation concurred, and then we went around the table, as each of my coworkers in turn– white and Black, immigrant and US born, Millennial and middle-aged, woman and man– expressed why we are supporting Bernie (and how much we don’t like Trump). It was like one of Bernie’s ads. I thought, “Here’s my chance!” I said, “Well, since we all feel this way, do you think we should try to get our union to endorse him?” People all agreed it was a good idea, and several said it hadn’t occurred to them before that our union was a space in which we could push for a politician who we support.

Only half an hour later, our local union president came into our cafeteria to get his own lunch (he works upstairs in the same building where we do), and my coworker urged me to talk to him about the endorsement idea. He told me that, with the NJ primary coming up in June, he was actually just getting ready to start the endorsement process– he had to discuss things with the International, then with the state leadership, and then poll the local membership to make a decision. Well, I know what that means: we need to get all the Bernie supporters in our local organized so that the results of that poll are overwhelmingly pro-Bernie and then convince the local leadership that the membership’s opinion should count more than the International’s. This will be hard, but not impossible! I know that SEIU members at Dartmouth and Columbia Universities have already bucked the International and endorsed Bernie, and the giant public workers local in New Hampshire as well.

So, SEIU sisters and brothers, here in Local 175, we’ve got our work cut out for us, but there’s a glimmer of hope. I wanted to share that story with all of you, hoping that inspires you the way the IBEW sister’s story inspired me, and also to ask for your advice and support. And can anyone put us in contact with the leaders of the locals in New Hampshire and New York that have already endorsed Bernie? Thank you in advance!

Solidarity from the heart of New Jersey,
Russell Weiss-Irwin
Local 175, Princeton University

Labor for Bernie and Beyond

by Dan La Botz

labor for bernie

“We’re going all the way to the convention,” said Larry Cohen, former President of the Communications Workers of America and Senior Advisor to the Sanders campaign. “We’re working to see that Sanders wins the Democratic Party nomination, but that’s not all we’re doing. We’re going beyond to build a democracy movement in this country.”

Cohen was speaking, just before the opening of the Labor Notes Conference, to some 125 union activists and local leaders who gathered for four hours at the Hilton Rosemont Hotel in Chicago on Friday, April 1 at the Labor for Bernie and Beyond meeting. They met to discuss the next stages and of the Sanders campaign as well as the future prospects for the movement of union activists who support him. The meeting was convened by Cohen and 23 other national or local union officers.

The Labor for Bernie movement has become a national phenomenon with more than 12,000 supporters, a Facebook page with 27,000 likes and traffic of almost 400,000 hits per week. Five national unions and some 90 plus local unions—often defying their international officers’ endorsements—have endorsed Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary. Labor for Bernie claims that Sanders is now predicted to win 60 percent of the labor vote in upcoming primaries.

Labor for Bernie claims some credit for Sanders’ overwhelming victory in Washington State where he won every single county. Katie Nelson told the group that though the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) national leadership had endorsed Sanders, the Washington AFSCME Council 28 executive board, of which she is a member, voted to endorse Sanders because they had to respect their members’ wishes.

A dozen other union activists from a variety of unions around the country—from National Nurses United (NNU) and the Inland Boatmen’s Union, to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Auto Workers—described their successes in either winning endorsements for Sanders or in holding off nominations for Hillary Clinton.

Pledging for Bernie

As Sanders heads into two crucial primary elections—Wisconsin on April 5 and New York on April 15—Labor for Bernie will be concentrating on workplace organizing and using new tools to increase Sanders vote in those primaries and in other upcoming primary elections. Union members will be distributing a Bernie for President pledge card to be signed by their coworkers, collected, and used to get out the vote.

Cohen described what he called an inside-outside strategy for the Democratic Party Convention in July; that is, the Labor for Bernie and other Bernie activists plan to have as many people as possible as delegates on the inside and as many other supporters as possible on the outside of the convention. Inside, said Cohen, the group will fight for Sanders and his policies in all of the possible arenas: the credentials committee, the rules committee, the platform committee, and for the actual nomination.

And Beyond

Labor for Bernie, like other Sanders supporters, believes their candidate can still defeat Hillary Clinton for the nomination. But in a system where Clinton has hundreds of unelected super-delegates pledged to vote for her, and several corporate super-PACS putting large amounts into her campaign, Sanders supporters know that their candidate—even if he wins big in several more states—could have victory wrested from him at the convention. So, whatever happens at the convention, several speakers offered suggestions for the future of the progressive labor activists who are backing Bernie.

Michael Lighty of NNU told the group, “We are not in this for ‘Bernie or Bust.’ This movement will not back off.” His union, he said has already begun to organize for a June 17 People’s Assembly in Chicago, working with National Peoples Action, a housing organization, and with United Students Against Sweatshops.

Cedric Johnson, a professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois Chicago, suggested that Bernie’s supporters needed to rethink their relationship to the black movement. “The movement may not include all Blacks,” he said, because Blacks are divided into different classes with different interests.” His colleague, Dean E. Robinson, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told the group, “Civil rights activists in the 1950s and 60s pressed the limits of the movement. Black politicians today tell us the limits should not be pushed—which is just the opposite. We have an opportunity to contest Black politicians.”

Seattle’s socialist City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant suggested that, “If we really want to fight the right and Trump, we must break from the Democratic Party, we begin now to create a movement for an independent candidate and consider building an independent party.” Sawant’s supporters in #Movement4Bernie are circulating a petition calling upon Sanders to “Run Through November.” It reads, “….we urge you to continue the political revolution by running independently of the Democratic Party rather than endorsing Hillary Clinton.”

Finally, Peter Olney, a retired ILWU organizer, called for the creation of a “new force for a democratic economy.” He said this force made up of unions, community groups, workers centers, immigrants groups and people advocating for people of color, LGBT rights should be organized around five key principles:

  • Fighting economic inequality.
  • Addressing discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation.
  • Opposition to the permanent war economy and militarized foreign policy.
  • Tackling global climate change.
  • Defense of the right to organize with the labor movement playing a leading role to promote working class interests

This first conversation about the future among Labor for Bernie activists represented an important first step, but the group adopted no strategy for the future at this time. Rand Wilson, who volunteers as a coordinator for the group, said he would provide a report back to all of the national and local endorsing unions.

Many of those attending the Labor for Bernie meeting were then off to the Labor Notes conference where they would working with others to build stronger and more democratic unions, while also advocating for stepped-up involvement in the Sanders campaign.

This article is reposted from New Politics at http://newpol.org/content/labor-bernie-and-beyond-plans-primaries-and-future

Labor for Bernie Activists Take the Political Revolution into Their Unions

by Dan DiMaggio and Rand Wilson

sanderslabor3-27-2016

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders shakes hands after speaking at the UAW Local 600 hall in Dearborn, Michigan, in February. Jim West, jimwestphoto.com.

 

Last June a small group of volunteers kicked off a network called “Labor for Bernie.”Their goal was to build support inside their unions for Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Since then, Sanders has come a long way—racking up primary wins in nine states, including a major upset in Michigan. The all-volunteer Labor for Bernie operation has come a long way too, growing to include tens of thousands of union members.

So far they’ve helped Sanders win the endorsements of more than 80 local unions and four national or international unions, including the Postal Workers (APWU), Communications Workers (CWA), and National Nurses United.

CWA made its endorsement after polling its members online—and after Sanders rallied with Verizon workers who are battling for a contract. The candidate is a longtime advocate for postal services, which impressed the Postal Workers. He’s also a lifelong proponent of single-payer health care, NNU’s signature issue. Nurses have crisscrossed the country on their union’s “Bernie Bus,” talking to voters.

The latest big union to endorse Sanders was the Amalgamated Transit Union. In a March 14 press release, President Larry Hanley cited the senator’s “longstanding fidelity to the issues that are so important to working people.”

Continue reading

Labor, The Left and Sanders

A Michael Albert interview with Steve Early and Rand Wilson

First posted at ZNet, February 17, 2016 (https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/labor-activism-sanders/)

Steve Early (SE) was a national staff member of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) in New England for three decades. He has been active in the labor movement since 1972 and is the author of three books about union issues and problems. He is the author of a forthcoming book entitled Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City (Beacon Press, 2017), which reports on progressive policy initiatives and electoral campaigning in Richmond, CA. He is a Labor for Bernie volunteer and has been a member of Jill Stein’s Green “shadow cabinet.” He belongs to Solidarity, the Democratic Socialists of America, and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

Rand Wilson (RW) has worked as a union organizer and labor communicator for more than thirty-five years. He has worked for the national AFL-CIO, CWA, IBEW, the Teamsters, Carpenters, Massachusetts Teachers Association, and other unions. He is currently on the staff of SEIU Local 888 in Boston and, in his spare time, volunteers for Labor for Bernie. He was one of the early members of the Labor Party, campaigned for State Auditor in Massachusetts as a candidate of the Working Families Party, and is active in local politics in Somerville, Mass.

Here are their responses to questions I put to them about their impressions of and involvement with the Sanders campaign.

Michael Albert, co-founder of ZNet and Z Magazine: You both have been working on the Sanders Campaign for some months now? First, I wonder, what made you each decide to join the effort? Surely it must be taking time away from some other priorities you have.

SE: For me, assisting Bernie’s campaign is, first of all, a matter of personal solidarity and political reciprocity.  During his 25 years in the House and Senate, Sanders has used his public office to help workers get better organized, in their workplaces and communities, in a fashion quite unlike any Democrat I ever encountered as a union rep in New England. I first met and worked with Bernie forty years ago; as a third party candidate for governor of Vermont in 1976, he was as committed to labor then as he is now. (For more on that record, see: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/05/bernie-sanders-president-primary-hillary/)

Bernie has not only urged Vermonters to vote “yes” in union representation elections like CWA’s 1994 campaign among 1,500 telephone company call center workers, he would annually convene meetings of local labor activists to help them develop more successful union-building strategies. To stimulate new rank-and-file thinking, Sanders and his staff invited out-of-state labor speakers who were part of national efforts to revitalize organized labor; he himself became the only member of Congress ever to address a national Labor Notes conference—and donate money to Labor Notes too.

He has been a staunch ally of the Vermont Workers Center, the Jobs With Justice affiliate in his home state. The VWC is a community-labor coalition that fights for single-payer health care, immigrants’ rights, paid sick leave, and other working-class causes. When members of IBEW and CWA opposed Verizon’s sale of its northern New England landline operations in 2006, Sanders was campaigning for the US Senate seat that he now holds. He convened a public forum highlighting the reasons for our “Stop The Sale” campaign and brokered a meeting with the proposed buyer, FairPoint Communications, that enabled us to confront top managers about the company’s record of anti-unionism.

More recently, as labor opponents of the sale predicted, Verizon’s successor has floundered financially and tried to impose contract concessions on its workforce of several thousand. During their four-month strike last winter, several thousand FairPoint union members had no stronger ally, in public and behind the scenes, than Bernie Sanders. So telephone worker locals went all out for Bernie in Iowa and New Hampshire this winter, plus the CWA national union—after a binding poll of the membership—officially endorsed Bernie’s presidential campaign. I’ve been active in CWA since 1980 and haven’t voted for a single one of its endorsed presidential candidates during that time. This year, the union finally had a candidate really worth endorsing and fighting for.

RW: — I saw building a rank-and-file network of labor-based Sanders supporters as a rare opportunity to tap into widespread union activist discontent with corporate Democrats like Hillary Clinton. For all the failings and weaknesses of the labor movement, most unions are still structured democratically enough—at least at the local union level—so that members’ voice can have a real impact, if they get organized. So we’ve encouraged union activists to speak out, wherever they can, before their local or national union endorses a presidential candidate this year.

Through our on-line endorsement mechanism, Labor for Bernie website, union member-created Facebook pages, and outreach to the media, we’ve helped give members the tools and resources to make sure their voices are heard—both in the three national unions that have endorsed Bernie and the others that haven’t. At the local level, more than 60 labor organizations are now backing his campaign—regardless of what position top labor officials have taken. About 11,000 individuals have become Labor for Bernie endorsers. Most people on that list are elected local union officers, organizers, shop stewards, and bargaining and political action committee members, in affiliates of every national union and many independent groups as well.
Continue reading

“Labor for Bernie” Network Building New Approach to Union Politics

by Rand Wilson

Labor for bernie

Labor for Bernie was initiated in June 2015 by trade unionists who have worked closely with Senator Sanders for many years. The network now includes thousands of elected officers, shop stewards, organizers, and rank-and-file members from 50 states and all of the national labor organizations as well as many independent unions.

These labor activists signed an on-line statement embracing Sanders as the only declared candidate, in either major party, “who challenges the billionaires who are trying to steal our pensions, our jobs, our homes, and what’s left of our democracy.” The first 5,000 union supporters may be viewed on the Labor for Bernie website.

More than a quarter of these Sanders supporters belong to building trades’ unions (with more than 1,000 coming from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers alone). Members of other unions who have showed significant membership support for Sanders’ presidential campaign include the Communications Workers of America, American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, International Union of Operating Engineers, United Auto Workers, and International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Continue reading

Labor for Bernie Meets with Sanders Before Boston Rally

by Paul Garver

Before addressing over 20,000 at a rally at the Boston Convention Center, Bernie Sanders met with several dozen members of Labor for Bernie.  The meeting was organized by Rand Wilson, a leader of Labor for Bernie and its SEIU wing.