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Working In These Times

Friday, Jun 26, 2015, 12:21 pm

Labor for Bernie Kickstarts Effort to Get Unions Behind Sanders With Nearly 2,000 Union Backers

BY Mario Vasquez

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Bernie Sanders speaks at a #StopFastTrack rally in DC this April.   (AFGE / Flickr)

Labor for Bernie, a new nationwide network for union members, announced today the launch of their grassroots movement to push the AFL-CIO and other unaffiliated major labor organizations such as SEIU and the Teamsters toward endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign.

Almost 2,000 union members have signed onto a letter outlining the network’s goals. Labor for Bernie reports that more than a third of these Sanders supporters belong to building trades unions, with 137 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers signees alone. Other unions that showed significant representation in the letter include the Communications Workers of America, American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, International Union of Operating Engineers, United Auto Workers and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

"Labor for Bernie 2016 won’t be a corporate-style, staff-driven, top-down campaign. It will reflect our commitment to creating fundamental change and the urgency of stronger grassroots organizing and political activity,” the letter reads. “We call on labor leaders, union members and working people to unite behind Bernie Sanders for a voice in the presidential political process and to elect the President working families need—a President who will answer to the 99 percent!”

The network’s website includes sample resolutions for rank and file activists hoping to push their locals and state-level federations of labor into endorsing Sanders. Thus far, AFL-CIO state-level federations from Vermont and South Carolina have chosen to do so.

"Bernie is running on a record of real accomplishment for workers, farmers, veterans, and millions of other blue-collar Americans," said Erin McKee, President of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, on the network’s website.  

"But here's the real difference between him and all the rest: He's the candidate who truly believes in the power of grassroots organizing. Bernie has been to South Carolina over the past few years and some of our members got the chance to see that first hand when he met not only with labor unions but with the fast food workers fighting for $15 an hour and a union."

In late March, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered a speech mentioning that an endorsement from the national organization is still up for grabs.

“It is early, and although many candidates are already in the race, the field remains open,” he said then. “And the labor movement’s doors are open to any candidate who is serious about transforming our economy with high and rising wages.”

Front-runner Hillary Clinton’s recent silence on the labor-opposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement led Trumka to say a few weeks later, in late May, that it was “conceivable” that the nationwide AFL-CIO would not endorse a candidate for president, instead focusing on the legislative races in 2016 if a candidate didn’t commit to a platform that they would want to fight for.

Since 1989, 19 of Sanders’ top 20 donors are members of unions from across the county, whereas Clinton’s top 20 is heavily populated by titans of finance. Labor for Bernie will be a new institutional campaign presence amid this fiscal backdrop.

Clinton’s name recognition (unprecedented among presidential candidates since at least Richard Nixon in 1968, according to the New York Times) and big money support will make Sanders’ run an uphill climb. But, as of late, Sanders is edging closer and close to Clinton in the polls. He’s packing the house in venues across the country (5,500 attended Sanders’ speech in Denver on June 20) and is even getting love from comedians like Sarah Silverman and Lewis Black.

If Labor for Bernie were to grow from its initial group of 1,000 union supporters, the group could prove crucial in helping the Senator from Vermont expand his nationwide reach. Labor for Bernie certainly could provide an outlet for labor activists that are tired of uncontested Democratic endorsements and eager to devote organized labor’s resources towards Sanders.

Mario Vasquez is a writer from southern California. He is a regular contributor to Working In These Times. Follow him on Twitter @mario_vsqz or email him at [email protected]

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