What Labor Should Learn from Trump’s Victory

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.

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What Role for Labor in the Progressive Uprising? A Conversation With Stephen Lerner

by Amy Dean

SEIU's Stephen Lerner talks with President of of SEIU Local 1(center purple) as part of a threeday event titled, "Showdown in Chicago" on Monday Oct. 26, 2009. Activists, union members, farmers, etc. descended on the city of Chicago to protest The American Bankers Association's annual meeting. (Photo Heather Stone)

No force did more to build the American middle class than organized labor. In recent decades, however, unions have been decimated. Despite concerted efforts to turn the tide, the movement now represents only 7 percent of workers in the private sector. Never have working people in this country been more in need of a collective voice. Yet, we must ask, can labor alone create the change we need? If it can’t do it by itself, what role can unions play in supporting a wider progressive uprising?

Few individuals are offering more interesting, credible and challenging views on this question than veteran labor strategist Stephen Lerner. Ezra Klein recently wrote in The Washington Post: “Ask union types who the smartest labor organizer is and they’re likely to point you towards [SEIU] organizer Stephen Lerner, who planned the legendary Justice for Janitors campaign.” In the most recent issue of New Labor Forum, Lerner has an essay titled “A New Insurgency Can Only Arise Outside the Progressive and Labor Establishment.” It is a must-read for all those who wish to think seriously about creating change in this country.

On a recent trip to Washington, DC, I had a chance to sit down with Lerner on his back porch and have a conversation about his article. I walked away with the resolve that never before has it been so important for labor to have an inside-outside strategy. This means that unions can’t just work to get better politicians elected, but must also help foster a wider grassroots insurgency that can directly challenge the forces that have undermined the American middle class.

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New Labor Forum Fundraising Luncheon: March 13

nlfmagonly.jpg If you’re in the New York City area, you’ll want to attend the 10th anniversary fund raising luncheon for the New Labor Forum, on Friday March 14 at 12:30 at the Murphy Institute, CUNY 25 West 43rd St NY NY 10036.

There’s a great forum at the luncheon. Tickets are very reasonable-$25 for students and $50 for sustainer–and they include a years subscription. (RSVP 212-642-2029.

New Labor Forum is an outstanding journal of ideas, discussion, and debate for the labor movement. If you can’t attend, you can subscribe here.

The luncheon forum will address the topic “Is this a watershed moment in U.S. politics.” Speakers include Katrina vanden Heuvel of the Nation; William Fletcher, Jr. (Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice), Mae Ngai (Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America) and Juan Gonzalez, New York Daily News columnist.