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

The UAW’s Election Loss at Chattanooga VW Plant Will Not End the Southern Auto Organizing Drive

by Paul Garver

Attributing its narrow loss at the Chattanooga VW plant to outrageous outside interference by anti-union special interest groups and right-wing politicians, on 21st February the UAW formally filed objections to the election with the NLRB. This is new legal terrain, since the electoral misconduct stemmed not as customary from management but from misleading and coercive statements by right-wing politicians and wealthy anti-union organizations.

The success of the UAW’s novel legal appeal is far from certain, despite its evident justification. It is also uncertain, even if a new election is granted, whether the union would  prevail in an unchanged hostile external political environment and continuing opposition to the union by some workers. However a new combination of political mobilization in the community and renewed organizing efforts by pro-union VW workers and their families can succeed.

I went away from a workshop with renewed hope at the recent Labor Notes conference in Chicago addressed by Volkswagon workers  and by Chris Brooks, of Chattanooga Organized for Action.  The workers and Chris explained with passion and clear analytical thinking how the union came close to victory, only to be blindsided by a massive anti-union campaign fueled by hundreds of thousands of dollars from shadowy outside special interests.

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How to Fan the Flames

Two activists with Labor Notes discuss some of the issue that will be discussed at this weekends Labor Notes conference.

by Alexandra Bradbury and Jane Slaughter

Where will the next big movement come from? Fights in the workplace can be the training ground. Photo: OUR Walmart.

Where will the next big movement come from? Fights in the workplace can be the training ground. Photo: OUR Walmart.

We troublemakers keep hoping for the spark that will set a wildfire of workers in motion. The worse our situation gets—economically, politically, ecologically—the more we yearn for a vast movement to erupt and transform the landscape.

It’s not impossible. Look at 1937, when workplace occupations spread everywhere, from auto factories to Woolworth’s. The 1930s wave of militancy forced Congress to aid union organizing with new laws and to enact Social Security and unemployment insurance. Industrial unions formed during that upsurge continue to this day.

So why not here and now? Continue reading

Labor Notes Conference

Labor Notes 2010 conference

Register today for the 2010 Labor Notes conference. Activists from across the country and around the world will be in Detroit April 23 to 25, 2010. Early workshops and meetings begin 1pm Friday, April 23, with opening session at 7pm. Closing session is 3pm Sunday, April 25. Registration for the 2010 conference is $115, or $85 if you register by February 19. All registration fees include Saturday banquet. Click here to register now.

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A Personal Reflection on the Labor Notes Conference

by Paul Garver
Elsewhere on this page you will find a collective statement by the editors of TalkingUnion on the disruption at the recent Labor Notes Conference. But as a conference participant and contributor to that statement, I want to put it in perspective. For me, as for most of the thousand activists who were at the Dearborn Hyatt to attend the conference, this ill-judged but brief incursion represented a minor hiccup in a remarkably rich and smoothly functioning event. The Labor Notes staff deserves much credit for organizing it.

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Debates, Yes! Assaults, No!- The Labor Notes Conference

 As labor movement  activists who are members of the Democratic Socialists of America, we are deeply disturbed by the attempt of some Service Employees International Union staff members to forcibly disrupt the Labor Notes Conference dinner meeting in Dearborn, Mich. on April 12. 

We recognize that the demonstrators had every right to vigorously express their views on the  dispute between the SEIU and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses  Organizing Committee.  To the degree that this is a jurisdictional dispute, we do not take sides.  There are complex additional issues involved which will be addressed in future postings. However a dispute does not give anyone a license to physically disrupt meetings  of pro-labor organizations.  In fact this offensive behavior alienated the majority of conference participants, including many from SEIU itself.

As trade unionists we are vitally concerned with the ability of the labor movement to work together in fighting back against the global assaults by employers against unions and workers’ living standards. Working people need a revitalized labor movement at home and abroad, and rebuilding that movement requires that trade unionists and their allies are able to discuss and debate differences freely and openly, both within their individual unions and among their unions. Such debates will sometimes be sharp and heated, but must always be conducted without bullying, threats or intimidation.

This year’s Labor Notes Conference provided an important forum for over a thousand labor activists from 23 countries to discuss major topics of urgent concern to the U.S.  and international labor movements. Many conference participants from SEIU locals took a vigorous and active role in workshops that debated the very issues involved in the  conflict with the CNA/NNOC. Such opportunities are too rare in the labor movement, and the integrity of such an event should be respected.

Participation in democratic discussion and debate and leading by example are more effective and preferable to strong-arm tactics in winning new workers to the labor movement. We encourage both the SEIU and the CNA/NNOC to accept AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s recommendation to sit down and attempt to resolve their conflicts in a mutually acceptable way.

Duane Campbell, Stuart Elliot, Paul Garver, Michael Hirsch, Tim Sears 

 Note; we have spent some four days discussing this letter sentence by sentence on line. We each agree with the central message. Each of us may comment, amplify or amend specific wording in the letter.

Readers are invited to join in the discussion by responding to this posting.