Pro-union rally in Mississippi unites workers with community

by Mike Elk

  • nissan-miss
    Workers and community members marched in Canton, Mississippi in support of Nissan workers’ right to unionize on Saturday. Photograph: Mike Elk for the Guardian

    For a mile outside Canton Multipurpose Complex on Saturday, the road was backed up. Many cars sported bumper stickers, pro-Bernie and pro-union.

    They came in school buses, hot rods, church vans and motorcycles, with license plates from Missouri, Texas, North Carolina, Illinois and Pennsylvania. A delegation of a dozen Nissan workers even came from Brazil, to support United Automobile Workers (UAW) activists who have faced illegal retaliation in a 13-year struggle to unionize the Japanese giant’s 5,000 workers in Mississippi.

    “I feel their pain because we have been through the same thing with Mercedes,” said Kirk Garner of Vance of Alabama, who has been part of the decade-long UAW effort to unionize there.

    Two weeks after the defeat of the Machinists Union at Boeing in South Carolina, an estimated 5,000 southern union activists gathered in Canton to lay the foundation of what they hope will be the large-scale community movements necessary to defeat anti-union forces nationwide – and in the White House.

    Community support is proving essential for union drives, as companies use politicians and expensive media buys to counter such campaigns. In South Carolina, Boeing spent $485,000 on TV ads and politicians warned that a successful union drive would discourage other companies from moving to the region. In 2014, anti-union forces used a similar strategy to defeat a high-profile attempt to unionize Volkswagen in Chattanooga.

    In Mississippi, as the UAW seeks a vote, Nissan has begun airing its own anti-union ads this week. The UAW claims that the company has told staff that if they unionize, the plant will move to Mexico. The company has denied the charge. In an email to the Guardian on Sunday, Nissan corporate communications manager Parul Bajaj said “the allegations made by the union are totally false” and accused the UAW of a “campaign to pressure the company into recognizing a union, even without employee support”.

    High-profile company ad campaigns can turn communities against unions. Workers often face not just intimidation from their bosses but also peer pressure from friends and neighbors, who warn of harm to the local economy.

    “I don’t think the pressure was as intense as it is now,” said GM worker John W Hill Jr, who was part of the first successful UAW effort to unionize workers in the south, 41 years ago at a GM plant in Monroe, Louisiana.

    “In 1976, there wasn’t the harsh anti-union sentiment that is so prevalent over the country right now … We didn’t have all the politicians and everybody against us.
    “I hope whenever the [Nissan] election is that they vote yes. But deep down inside, I think there is so much fear here and disconnect that I just don’t think [they will].”
    Hill was interrupted by a Nissan worker with a toddler on his shoulders: “Nah man, we got this, we got this. We are gonna beat them.”

    As they marched on the plant on an unusually warm March day, workers sang: “We are ready, We are ready, We are ready, Nissan.”

    They have organized a community coalition, the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, that includes #BlackLivesMatter activists, church groups, the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The coalition is calling for a mobilization not seen in the south since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

    More than 80% of Nissan’s workers in Canton are black. A win at Nissan could be a game-changer. On Saturday, they had a guest speaker.

    “If we can win here at Nissan, you will give a tremendous bolt of confidence to working people all over this country” Bernie Sanders told a crowd of 5,000. “If you can stand up to a powerful multinational corporation in Canton, Mississippi, workers all over this country will say, ‘We can do it too.’”

    sanders-in-miss

    Bernie Sanders speaks at the ‘March on Mississippi’ for workers’ rights in Canton. Photograph: Rogelio V. Solis/AP

    Out of 43 of Nissan plants worldwide, 40 are unionized. The only plants that are one in Canton, Mississippi and two in Tennessee. Workers say the lack of a union makes a difference. Bajaj said Nissan “respects and supports” employees’ decisions about who represents them.

    Many employees in Canton say they make less than $15 an hour, with starting wages for some at $13.46 an hour. Workers say they make $2 less each hour than those in Smyrna, where Nissan faces competition from unionized GM factories.
    Bajaj countered that the company’s “hourly wages are significantly above the average central [Mississippi] production wage of $16.70 per hour”.

    Many Canton workers also say they are forced to work for years as temporary employees and complain that they are denied vacation, only allowed to take time off in the last week of June and the first week of July – when the plant shuts down.
    Without a union, they say, workers are often forced to work in unsafe conditions.
    Since 2008, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) has citedCanton facilities six times. In February, Osha issued a citation for a failure to have proper safety lights indicated when machines were on and for not instructing workers to turn off machines before fixing them.

    “I had to call [Osha] twice in the past month,” said Karen Camp, who works in the paint shop. “You couldn’t see 10ft in front of your face because of the ventilation problems. We know a union could help fix it.”

    In his email, Bajaj said: “The safety and well-being of our employees is always our top priority. We dedicate extensive time and resources to safety programs and training at the plant.” The Canton plant, she added, “has a safety record that is significantly better than the national average for automotive plants” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Workers say Nissan has fought the union every step of the way. In 2015, the National Labor Relations Board charged that the company and its temporary employee agency provider, Kelly Services, violated workers’ rights, with one manager threatening to close the plant if it went union. Nissan has said it is defending against the charge.

    Workers say the company routinely imposes one-on-one meetings, where they are questioned about their views on unionization and have their work histories reviewed. Some say those who support the union are routinely denied promotion. Others say pro-union workers have been unfairly let go.

    In March 2014, a 43-year-old pro-UAW Nissan worker, Calvin Moore, who had worked in the plant since 2004, was fired. Many workers began to protest.

    The actor Danny Glover, a supporter of Nissan workers who was also present at Saturday’s march, with NAACP president Cornell William Brooks, called a press conference to denounce the firing. Students from Jackson State and Tougaloo College engaged in civil disobedience at Nissan headquarters. Workers in Brazil organized protests in solidarity.

    Three months later, Moore was hired again. The win put wind in the union’s sails.
    “It bolstered people’s spirits,” Moore said on Saturday. “To be honest, people were happier for me than I was for myself.”

    Moore said community support and events, such as the March on Mississippi, were key to winning support among coworkers. “We have had a lot of non-union workers who have changed their mind about the UAW,” he said. “Events like this should help us get more support, especially when people see this on TV.”

    High-profile labor efforts could prove crucial not just to unions in the coming months and years, but also to Democratic attempts to win back Congress and the White House. Last year, Donald Trump won the largest share of union voters for a Republican since 1984. He has since focused on bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US.

    However, with many of these new jobs being temporary, Democrats feel they can win union voters back by focusing on how to improve such jobs. Such a strategy, if successful, may not just to win back blue-collar voters. It could also help soften racial tensions that have spread among manufacturing workers.

    With Republicans fighting unionization nationwide, incoming Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez – who was labor secretary under Barack Obama – has signaled that he intends to focus on supporting efforts to unionize.
    In Canton, workers said their efforts could provide a model for the progressive movement in the age of Trump.

    “If there was ever a movement to be led,” said Mississippi NAACP president Derrick Johnson, “it would be led out of Mississippi, because we have always led the movement.”

    • Mike Elk is a member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. He is the co-founder of Payday Report and was previously senior labor reporter at Politico.  This article is reposted from The Guardian by agreement with the author.

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AFL-CIO Endorses Keith Ellison to Lead DNC

Kenneth Quinnell, AFL-CIO News Blog

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

The Executive Council of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO has voted overwhelmingly to endorse Rep. Keith Ellison to lead the Democratic National Committee. Over the past few weeks, several candidates have sought the endorsement of the AFL-CIO and met personally with members of the Political Committee, which ultimately recommended the endorsement.

“Representative Ellison meets the high standard working people expect from leaders of our political parties,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “He is a proven leader who will focus on year-round grassroots organizing to deliver for working families across America. Under his leadership, the Democratic Party will embody the values that our members stand for every day.”

“The AFL-CIO knows the challenges facing America’s working families and how to speak to working Americans of all colors, genders and backgrounds,” said Ellison. “I am proud to be on their side, and I am even prouder that the AFL-CIO is on mine. Workers will be central to the Democratic Party.”

[Ed. Note:  Keith Ellison, Co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, has been endorsed by Senators Sanders and Warren.  His selection would symbolize a new progressive direction for the Democratic Party.  A few conservatives on the Executive Council opposed the endorsement of Ellison while others abstained].

Bernie Sanders’ Book Offers Roadmap

by Steve Early and Rand Wilson

Bernie 1981

Bernie Sanders’ segue from presidential candidate to barnstorming author was seamless. In between the Democratic National Convention in July and hitting the stump this fall to boost Hillary Clinton’s stock in battleground states, Sanders cranked out a 450-page book, which hit bookstores November 15. The author was not far behind, with sold-out appearances from Boston to San Francisco.

Often, quickie books from trade publishers hoping to capitalize on an author’s newly-achieved celebrity are nothing more than ghost-written schlock. Campaign memoirs—like the authorized biographies or ghosted autobiographies of presidential hopefuls—aren’t often memorable either, even when they display some evidence of real candidate involvement or reflection. But like Sanders’ 2016 campaign, his book, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, greatly exceeds expectations.

In the first third of the book, we get an insider account of his plunge into presidential politics when few in the corporate media, the Democratic Party or the AFL-CIO took his democratic socialist “fringe” candidacy seriously. Sanders also recounts his early life in Brooklyn, his activism at the University of Chicago during the 1960s and his four-decade career in Vermont public life.

The author’s description of the grassroots struggle to transform municipal government during his eight years as Burlington mayor is particularly instructive for progressives thinking about running for local office. As Sanders proudly writes, the electoral coalition “formed in 1982, became the foundation for progressive third party politics in Vermont. Not only has it continued in Burlington to this day, electing two progressive mayors after me, it has spread statewide.”

With representation in both houses of the Vermont legislature, the Vermont Progressive Party (VPP) has, according to Sanders, become “one of the most successful and long-standing third parties in America.” Its singular status was further confirmed on November 8, when Sanders-backed David Zuckerman, a VPP state senator and working-class oriented organic farmer, got elected lieutenant governor—marking the first time a progressive, other than Sanders, has succeeded in a Vermont-wide race.

A post-campaign agenda

In the remaining two-thirds of Our Revolution, Sanders outlines his agenda for the country and talks about what it will take to achieve it. His substantive proposals will be familiar to the millions of people who voted for him, and include recommendations on everything from health care, criminal justice reform, trade, Wall Street regulation, bank restructuring and free public higher education to combatting climate change, creating clean energy jobs, overhauling “our broken immigration system” and getting big money out of politics.

Not surprisingly—for someone from a state with large rural areas and relatively few homicides—Sanders’ agenda does not emphasize gun control, although he does confess to having mishandled that issue on the national debate stage.

In a well-documented chapter called “Corporate Media and the Threat to Our Democracy,” Sanders updates his long-time critique of the handful of multinational corporations that own a lot of the media and have an outsized influence on what people see and hear. Sanders himself was, of course, a case study in hostile or non-existent coverage by major newspapers and TV networks for much of his campaign.

Both as a campaign history and progressive policy guide, Our Revolution brims with the same righteous indignation and relentless optimism that drew bigger and bigger crowds to Sanders’ rallies. It concludes with the author’s oft-repeated call for follow-up activity now at the local level:

“Run for the school board, city council, state legislature. Run for governor. Run for Congress. Run for the Senate. Run for president. Hold your elected officials accountable. Know what they’re doing and how they’re voting and tell your neighbors.”

Going local with “Our Revolution”

Sanders’ encouragement and support for like-minded candidates began during his own “testing the waters” tour of the country, as a not-yet-declared contender for the White House. He was invited to Richmond, California, in 2014 by Green mayor Gayle McLaughlin and other progressive city council candidates facing an avalanche of corporate spending against them by Chevron, the largest employer in town.

Sanders writes that his town hall meeting “turned out to be one of the largest and loudest audiences that I had spoken to since I began traveling around the country.” In Richmond, four candidates he backed two years ago won their elections, as did two more members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance this fall. This time, they were endorsed by Our Revolution, the post-campaign organization created by former campaign staff and Sanders volunteers. Richmond’s top vote getter was 26-year-old Melvin Willis, an African-American Bernie fan, rent control advocate and local organizer for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. Elsewhere in Northern California, Our Revolution-assisted candidates won mayoral races in Berkeley and Stockton.

Nationwide, Our Revolution endorsed 106 local, state, and federal candidates and 34 ballot initiatives. Fifty-eight of those candidates were successful; twenty-three of the ballot measures succeeded, including several dealing with campaign finance reform. Among those backed by Our Revolution was Mike Connolly, a lawyer and community activist in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Like Zuckerman in Vermont, Connolly competed in the Democratic primary to clear the field. He narrowly defeated a 12-term Democratic incumbent backed by most Bay State unions and nearly all his Beacon Hill colleagues. On November 8, Connolly won the seat, running unopposed in the general election. Three other Our Revolution-backed legislative candidates in Massachusetts, all incumbents, also won their primary battles and/or general election campaigns as well. They were state Sens. Pat Jehlen and Jamie Eldridge and state Rep. Mary Keefe.

Connolly is now working with Our Revolution supporters to build a new state structure that better links issue-oriented campaigns with electoral politics.

“We need to push the Democratic Party to once again be the party of the people,” he says. “We need to turn politics around so that it is movement-centered and driven by the grassroots.”

At a Boston book tour stop in late November, Sanders stressed similar goals in his talk to an estimated 1,000 people. Bernie’s mostly young fans paid $33 to attend and got a copy of Our Revolution. The author was in fine form, sharing clear, concise, and useful insights into the lessons of his campaign and the challenges under President-elect Donald Trump. During the question period, a young Latina woman who was thinking of running for office herself, asked for Sanders’ advice.

“It’s not good enough for someone to say: ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!’” he told her. “No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

The crowd chanted “Bernie, Bernie” but the future clearly belonged to Sanders-inspired candidates of the sort he described, following in his footsteps and getting involved in politics at the local, state and national levels.

This article appeared on the blog of the In These Times magazine  and is reposted here with the agreement of the authors. You can make a tax-deductible donation to fund reporting at In These Times.

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.

 

Sanders delegates and supporters meet in Boston to make plans for Democratic convention and beyond

by Rand Wilson

Rand and zakiyyah

Sanders delegates from MA CD 7 Zakiyyah Sutton and Rand Wilson
photo by Sandy Eaton

Over 100 Bernie Sanders’ supporters attended a meeting on June 28 at the Ironworkers Local 7 union hall in South Boston to make plans for activities at the national Democratic convention and begin a discussion about continuing the political revolution in Massachusetts.  A few photos from the meeting are posted here and many others are on Facebook.

The meeting was attended by 23 of the 45 Congressional District and At-Large delegates from Massachusetts who were elected this year to support Bernie Sanders at the 2016 National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia from July 25 to 28.  Nearly everyone in attendance had door knocked, phone banked and rallied for Bernie over the last year.

Jared Hicks, a delegate from Congressional District 7 who lives in Dorchester said that he hoped to win a Democratic platform that reflected Bernie’s values and change the party’s rules so that participation in the primaries is easier for voters.

“We need a progressive platform that includes Medicare for All, $15 minimum wage, expanded Social Security and a tax on Wall Street,” said Hicks. “And if Democrats want to defeat Trump, we must have strong language in opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.”

A number of participants expressed concern over the failure of the Sanders campaign to capture significant support in communities of color. They challenged the group to make overcoming racism a top priority if it seeks to build a broader movement.

Michael Gilbreath, a District 5 delegate from Wayland, highlighted some of the many activities that groups like Progressive Democrats of America, Democratic Socialists of America and many others were planning in support of the Sanders’ platform outside of the convention.

More than half of the meeting’s attendees indicated they planned to travel to Philadelphia during the convention to participate in activities there.

The most passionate part of the evening’s discussion regarded continuing the political revolution in Massachusetts and support for several down ballot “Bernie-crat” candidates.  Jed Hresko, who coordinated many successful volunteer phone banks for Bernie in Boston, suggested that similar efforts could be mobilized for local candidates.

With the strong possibility of a Clinton candidacy, some participants voiced support for the Green Party, while others cautioned that the priority should be on defeating the presumptive Republican nominee. There is clearly no consensus among Sanders’ supporters about whom to support for President!

All too often, incipient “political revolutions” fall prey to self-appointed leaders who lack either a following and/or the necessary skills to hold a group together.  Looking to the future, the diverse, statewide group of 45 elected representatives tested in the campaign and committed to the Sanders’ platform could provide a powerful foundation dedicated to continuing our revolution in Massachusetts.

Rand Wilson is an elected Sanders delegate from the 7th Congressional District.  He works for SEIU Local 888 and has volunteered with the Labor for Bernie network.

Worse Is Not Better

by Gene Grabiner

Member, FFECC, (NYSUT, AFL-CIO)

Delegate, WNY Area Labor Federation

genegrabiner

To all My “Bernie or Bust” Friends:

I support Bernie, and would, by far, prefer to see him as the Democratic Party nominee to run against Donald Trump. I collected signatures for Bernie on nominating petitions. I made phone calls and distributed literature for him. And I have contributed money to Bernie’s campaign.

More discussion about Bernie follows. But first, let’s look back in history at another decisive presidential campaign and election.

In 1932 in Germany, the Social Democrats and the Communist Party would not unite. We know the result.

Together, the Social Democrats and Communists won 37.29% of the popular vote. The Nazis won 33.09%. Had the Social Democrats and Communists united, things might have turned out very differently.

Our situation today is not identical in terms of the players or conditions. But in terms of ideology and outlook in the current political scene, things seem significantly similar.

This 2016 election is a decisive one. It may determine whether or not democratic forms even continue to exist within the United States.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, is the crystalized  expression of the American fascist movement. And I think, or at least hope, we all understand what that means.

But just in case, here are some elements of fascism: union busting and the destruction of the independent union movement, a right-to-work agenda, the crushing of progressive political organizations and parties, suppression of the media, misogyny, scapegoating, racism and demonization of the LGBTQ community as social policy, attacks on the poor, the weak, and the disabled. And there may be worse, including an intensified culture of militarism, and the push toward war.

Fascism does not always appear as it was in Italy, Germany, and Japan. But it always cloaks itself in a distorted version of the culture and history of whatever society in which it emerges. Sinclair Lewis was said to have remarked that “ if fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

Fascism tries to split the memberships of our unions, attempting to weaken our overall solidarity. Sadly, a number of our union brothers and sisters find themselves supporting Trump. In this, they are actually breaking labor solidarity. They should reject Trump because it is imperative that we stop fascism cold and protect our independent union movement.

Now what about Bernie, and what about Hillary?

Bernie Sanders is a social democrat. And Hillary Clinton is a centrist who has become more progressive only due to Bernie’s campaign. And she has done this by accepting elements of his program.

Due to Bernie, she now opposes the TPP.  And due to Bernie, she came out in favor of offering a Medicare buy-in for folks, ages 50-55. This “Medicare for Some“ goes beyond the Affordable Care Act, though it falls short of Bernie’s proposal of “Medicare for All.”

If Bernie is not nominated, he still will strongly shape the Democratic Party program. And Hillary has said as much. Hillary and Bernie together have been effective enough to ensure that the Democratic Party Platform Committee will have a progressive majority.

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Bernie Sanders, Labor, Ideology, and the Future of U.S. Politics

  • by Bob Master
    Legislative and Political Director for CWA District One of the Communications Workers of America and a co-chair of the New York State Working Families Party.
    sanders_cwa
    The Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, contrary to all expectation, has become the most important left insurgency in the United States in nearly half a century. A year ago, even his most optimistic supporters might have hoped that Sanders would enliven the presidential debates by challenging Hillary Clinton on issues of Wall Street power and big money corruption, and perhaps garner a quarter to a third of the primary vote.

Instead, Sanders won primaries and caucuses in 23 states, and amassed over 12 million votes and nearly 43% of the pledged delegates. And all this while unapologetically and unabashedly proclaiming himself a “democratic socialist,” re-legitimizing a systemic critique of US capitalism for the first time since the one-two punch of Cold War reaction and neoliberal triumphalism froze the left out of mainstream American discourse two generations ago. The power of Big Banks, job-killing trade deals, ending the corrosive influence of big money in elections, eliminating private insurance companies from the health care system, and the merits of a “political revolution” became staples of prime-time presidential debates. Once stunning poll numbers now seem commonplace: 43% of Iowa caucus goers, including roughly a third of Clinton supporters, describing themselves as “socialists”; a New York Times poll late last year which said that 56% of Democratic primary voters had a “positive view of socialism;” and Sanders’ overwhelming support among young voters, by margins as high as 84% in Iowa and New Hampshire, but even reaching the low 60s in states like South Carolina, where he was otherwise crushed. Indeed, Sanders’ remarkable popularity among “millennials” prompted John Della Volpe, the director of a long-running Harvard University poll of young people, to tell the Washington Post that Sanders is “not moving a party to the left. He’s moving…the largest generation in the history of America…to the left.”[1] Something significant is definitely going on….
Today’s labor movement has been largely shaped by its experiences of defeat, on multiple battlefronts over the last 30 years—at the bargaining table, in State Houses, in the courts. In recent years, this prolonged existential crisis has bred some innovation and success, most dramatically in SEIU’s four-year old “Fight for $15 and a Union,” which has sharpened and politicized the discourse about income inequality and stagnant wages that erupted in Occupy Wall Street (not to mention delivering billions of dollars in raises to tens of millions of low-wage workers across the country).
The broad acceptance of $15 an hour as the new standard for the minimum wage – a notion that was ridiculed by many of its current proponents just two years ago—illuminates the critical power of ideas in opening up space for organizing and political and legislative advancement. When fast food workers and their supporters won the ideological battle about what constitutes an adequate minimum subsistence level of compensation, change came with surprising suddenness.
Historian Nelson Lichtenstein has written that “trade unionism requires a compelling set of ideas and institutions, both self-made and governmental, to give labor’s cause power and legitimacy. It is a political project whose success enables the unions to transcend the ethnic and economic divisions always present in the working population.”[3] But labor’s ideological breakthrough in the “Fight for $15” is an exception that proves the rule. By the time the Corporate Right fashioned its relentless and well-planned ideological and practical attack on the labor movement, starting in the mid-70s, decades of complacency and anti-communism had stripped the labor movement of its capacity to respond on an ideological plane. In his famous letter in 1978 resigning from the “Labor—Management Group” after the Business Roundtable-sponsored filibuster buried “Labor Law Reform” in an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, UAW President Doug Fraser lamented the outbreak of a “one-sided class war” waged by a politically resurgent corporate elite. The unspoken and probably unintended implication was that class war was an alien concept to a labor movement that had come to see itself as the junior, but accepted and well-established, partner in a long term “social compact.”

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