Art by Yousef Amairi

Art by Yousef Amairi
the struggle continues

February 20, 2016

Labor’s Civil War over Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton By: Ari Paul


from: Telesur

There is a growing divide between union leadership and the rank and file over whether Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton best represents labor's interests. | Photo: AFP Previous Next Published 18 February 2016 0 Comments We Recommend  For unionists who feel betrayed by the Democratic Party’s drift to the right, supporting Sanders is about organized labor reasserting itself in the party. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers union has been fighting a Sisyphean campaign to organize workers at Wal-Mart, and yet it endorsed one of the anti-union company’s former directors, Hillary Clinton, for president. The sole national demand of the Service Employees International Union is a $15/hr. minimum wage, and yet the union endorsed the only Democratic candidate to oppose this, Hillary Clinton.  Making this all the more perplexing is the fact that the former Secretary of State faces a challenge from her left, Senator Bernie Sanders, who has campaigned directly on raising the hourly wage floor to $15. The self-described democratic socialist’s dedication to addressing America’s yawning economic equality has earned him the endorsements of the American Postal Workers Union, National Nurses United and the Communication Workers of America, as well as local affiliate unions. 
And Sanders supporters are claiming victory after the AFL-CIO declined to make an endorsement before the Nevada caucuses, even though it had hinted at making an early endorsement last fall."  The split goes even deeper than the national organizations. SEIU might have tapped Clinton, but New Hampshire’s large state workers SEIU local affiliate endorsed Sanders. Various news outlets have reported that while many unions have endorsed Clinton, there’s little rank-and-file energy for door-knocking and phone-banking for her campaign as compared to workers volunteering for Sanders.   

The choice of Las Vegas casino workers union, Culinary Workers Union Local 226, to forgo an endorsement in the state’s caucuses exposed the eroding confidence in Clinton in a key state, although the union angrily accused Sanders campaigners of pretending to be union organizers to get access to members at casinos.  Speaking by phone while traveling in Nevada in preparation for the caucuses, Sanders campaigner and former Communication Workers of America President Larry Cohen said he was blown away by the enthusiasm of union members from all different sectors taking time off their jobs to volunteer.  “It’s unbelievable, it’s beyond comprehension,” he said, adding that workers relate more to Sanders than Clinton. “He’s one of us. He lives in a simple house in Burlington, Vermont. He drives a small Chevrolet. Until recently, he only flew in economy.”  

Contrast that to Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who both earn six-figure fees for speeches given at corporate events, travel like rock stars and have a daughter who graces the society pages with news of her $10.5 million Manhattan home. As Cohen sees it, it’s not hard to understand why the clock-punchers of the country pound the pavement for Sanders despite what their national union says.  “It’s not his words, it’s a reiteration of his life,” Cohen said. “People see that this is the chance to elect a working-class candidate.”  

Still, it makes sense that national labor leaders would stick with Clinton on the grounds that she’s thought to be the inevitable nominee, so it’s best to make nice early. Others see it necessary to get close to the establishment of the party in hopes that labor can sway it to the left on economic issues just a little bit. Some prominent labor leaders are also Democratic Party superdelegates, solidifying their role as party functionaries even though their primary job to represent the economic interests of their memberships.   

It should be remembered that the locals and regional affiliates represent rank-and-file interests more. National unions are staff-driven umbrella organizations whose interactions are mostly with the Beltway world of lobbyists and professional campaigners. It speaks volumes when affiliates break and choose a different candidate. Those are the organizations in shabby offices, with members coming in to discuss grievances or health benefits, in a way where their voice might actually be part of the discussion. The fact that regional affiliates are giving the nod to Sanders means there's real rank-and-file energy to campaign for him.  

But it’s naïve to think Clinton will take cues from the SEIU and UFCW if and when she’s in the White House, and it’s not just because her corporate donors outnumber her union supporters. Her political dynasty was directly responsible for turning the party toward the political center, away from labor and toward business, in the 1990s. This permanent counter-revolution within the party manifests itself today, as former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, once thought to be an independent progressive, bashed Sanders for pointing to money Clinton receives from corporate speeches, telling MSNBC, “I don’t hear anybody asking Bernie Sanders for transcripts of some speech he made for a labor union” adding that “labor unions are super-PACs,” invoking the boogeyman of big money in politics.  For unionists who have felt betrayed by the Democratic Party’s turnabout two decades ago, largely at the direction of former President Bill Clinton and exemplified by his support for the North American Free Trade Agreement which unions strongly opposed, supporting Sanders is about organized labor’s attempt to reassert itself in the party, forcing the party elders not to take union members for granted by a constituency to which it must listen.  Some unions are taking the opportunity to do that this year. Others are being more reserved. What’s for certain is that members are watching.  

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address:

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