New York, NY – In just a few short hours after announcing his 2020 presidential run on Tuesday, February 19, Bernie Sanders raised more than $1 million in campaign contributions and put himself at the head of the Democratic field of contenders using the very same metric the political establishment uses to measure such things. But is organized labor paying attention this time around?
In amassing so many campaign contributions right out of the gate, Sanders has outpaced the performance of other Democratic challengers in the running including California Senator Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and New Jersey Senator Corey Booker.
Whether that, and being viewed as the most popular politician in the country, is convincing union leaders who backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, that they need to back Bernie in 2020, remains to be seen. Not many were interested in commenting on Tuesday.
“I think it’s too early for labor to get onboard,” outspoken IUOE, Local 94 training instructor Bill Caramico told LaborPress on Tuesday.
Most labor leaders decided not to support Bernie in 2016, choosing instead to “play it safe” and back the establishment’s anointed candidate and ultimate loser — Hillary Clinton.
In an online piece published this week at Jacobin, RoseAnn DeMoro, former executive director of both National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, said, “[L]abor leaders knew the many betrayals from past endorsed Democrats and Clinton’s cavalier disinterest in most of labor’s issues. But those leaders were afraid of backing Sanders only to see Clinton win.”
Two years ago, during an episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz,” United Steelworkers head Leo Gerard recalled rank & file members telling him, “Leo, you keep asking us to vote for someone who sleeps with the guy [Bill Clinton] who screwed us with NAFTA.”
“We’ve got members who have literally said to me during the election campaign and after, ‘We’ve been voting Democrat all our lives and look…we don’t have anything to show for it. We might as well take a chance on this guy [Trump]. He can’t be any worse,” Gerard said.
DeMoro further notes, “It was not that labor’s top leaders were unaware of Sanders’s pro-worker agenda. And it was not that organized labor did not have heartfelt respect for Sanders. I witnessed that respect as a vice president of the AFL-CIO. When Sanders entered our Executive Council asking for our consideration of his endorsement, he was greeted with an overwhelming standing ovation.”
In garnering support for his 2020 presidential run, Sanders, on Tuesday, said, “I’m running for president because we need trade policies that reflect the interests of workers and not multi-national corporations. We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, provide pay equity for women and guarantee all workers paid family and medical leave.” Sanders also said he is running for president in 2020 “because we need to understand that artificial intelligence and robotics must benefit the needs of workers, not just corporate America and those who own that technology.”
As DeMoro points out, many labor leaders considered Sanders’ presidential bid “unfeasible” in 2016. Since then, however, many of the central planks in Bernie’s presidential platform — including a $15 an-hour minimum wage, and single-payer healthcare — have, indeed, become campaign boxes serious Democratic challengers have to check off, if they hope to win over progressive, pro-worker voters.
On the same day that Sanders announced his 2020 run for the presidency, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the state’s new $15 an-hour minimum wage into law. In response, Chicago fast food worker Ieshia Townsend released a statement saying, ”Six years ago, when fast-food workers in Chicago first went on strike for $15 and a union, nobody gave us a chance to win. But today, Illinois is the fifth state in the country to pass a $15/hour minimum wage. What changed? Workers like me stood up, spoke out, and walked off the job. We joined together and acted like a union, convincing politicians that $15 an hour was the bare minimum anyone, anywhere in Illinois needs to get by.”
Sanders, unlike Clinton, was in lockstep with workers in the “Fight for $15” struggle, and has long advocated for a $15 an-hour minimum wage at the national level.
“Three years ago, during our 2016 campaign, when we brought forth our progressive agenda we were told that our ideas were ‘radical’ and ‘extreme,’ Sanders wrote this week. “We were told that Medicare for All, a $15 an hour minimum wage, free tuition at public colleges and universities, aggressively combating climate change, demanding that the wealthy start paying their fair share of taxes, were all concepts that the American people would never accept. Well, three years have come and gone. And, as result of millions of Americans standing up and fighting back, all of these policies and more are now supported by a majority of Americans.”
In 2016, the Democratic National Committee [DNC] actively sought to trip up Bernie’s run for the White House and pave the way for a Clinton coronation. Despite some superficial changes to the role of superdelegates, Sanders — as well as any other so-called “left wing” candidate including Congress Member Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii — still faces huge obstacles in attaining the Democratic nomination.
Labor’s support could help overwhelm those obstacles. During the AFL-CIO’s 2017 convention, members passed a resolution declaring, in part, “The time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils politics.”
The rubber has now hit the road.
Labor leaders now have another shot at the apple, to buck a corrosive establishment that gave rise to Donald Trump, and help elect a candidate for president whose pro-worker bona fides are undeniable. Choosing another Clinton would not only be disastrous for them, but fatal for everyone else.