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Working In These Times

Thursday, Dec 17, 2015, 3:04 pm

After Polling Its Members, Communications Workers of America Endorses Bernie Sanders

BY Steve Payne

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Bernie Sanders on an Iowa picket line, 2015. (Instagram / Bernie Sanders)  

Almost two months ago, I received an email from my international union, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), with a poll asking which candidate the CWA should support for president.

As a Sanders supporter, I was skeptical that CWA might endorse a democratic socialist calling for a political revolution. I filled out the poll and over the next couple of months I discussed it with my co-workers at the University of Memphis, several of whom also filled it out.

I was pleasantly surprised when on December 17 I saw that the CWA had decided to follow the lead of rank-and-file workers and endorse Bernie Sanders for president. The CWA endorsement came after an online poll of tens of thousands of members and worksite meetings showed a decisive majority of members supported Sanders.

“The main reason CWA endorsed Bernie is because that’s what the members wanted the union to do,” said Bradley Harmon, President of CWA Local 6355. Harmon works for the Missouri Department of Social Services, Children’s Division. “When the union was considering how to proceed with the endorsement process, they put up an online poll. … Tens of thousands of union members from all over the country researched the candidates’ backgrounds and decided that the candidate best for working families was Bernie Sanders.”

Harmon continued, saying that “in CWA we’ve been working for years on really building a movement for democracy and economic justice. We’ve been doing a lot of education among our members, and the union’s been working on a member education campaign about what the political and economic realities are really like in our country.”

With 700,000 members nationwide, the CWA represents an important political force in the president election. They can also activate tens of thousands of members to knock on doors and make phone calls. The CWA joins two other national unions in endorsing Sanders: National Nurses United and the American Postal Workers Union. These endorsements represent an important coup for Sanders and a break from other large labor unions that have endorsed Clinton.

Clinton has refused to endorse a $15 minimum wage and until recently supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an international trade agreement the CWA and many other labor unions opposed. In addition, she has received large donations from banks and big corporations, as opposed to Sanders reliance on small donors.

Former CWA president Larry Cohen cites Sanders’ opposition to trade deals as a key factor in his decision to support Sanders over Clinton. Since leaving the CWA this summer, Cohen has volunteered with the Sanders campaign.

Sanders has used his presidential campaign to support unions by walking the walk—not just talking. On the day he received the endorsement, Sanders joined flight attendants with the CWA on a picket line in Washington D.C. In October this year, Sanders joined a picket line with Verizon workers affiliated with the CWA in New York City who were in a contract dispute. He has also joined picket lines with electrical workers in Vermont and workers at a corn processing plant in Cedar Rapids.

CWA member Thomas Anderson, who works at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, spoke to the necessity of a president who stands with labor. “We need a president who understands and will fight for working people everywhere and Bernie Sanders will be that president. Public workers in Tennessee are in a hard fight against a corporate takeover engineered by Governor Bill Haslam and his corporate cronies. They want to sell off maintenance and management of all our public resources, including parks, prisons, and public universities to the very corporate, Wall Street crooks Bernie Sanders has spent his entire career fighting.”

It is not just labor issues that motivate CWA members to support Sanders, however. Former president Larry Cohen wrote that Sanders has fought “for environmental justice, for voting rights and getting big money out of politics. Bernie is there for criminal justice reform and a path to citizenship for 20 million immigrants.”

Universal healthcare is an issue for other members. “I voted in our union’s poll to support Bernie Sanders because he is for a single payer healthcare system. I believe access to quality healthcare is a fundamental right for every person.” said Daryl Stephens, one of my co-workers at the University of Memphis.

Sanders’ call for a political movement, not just a president, is also significant. Sanders has built his campaign on mobilizing ordinary Americans to engage in the political process. Current CWA President Chris Shelton says that “Bernie has called for a political revolution—and that is just what Americans need today.” Thomas Anderson told me that “Bernie also knows that it can only be won by a movement and not an individual.”

Bradley Harmon finished his interview  by saying that “Senator Sanders is the candidate prepared to take on Wall Street, the one percenters, and the billionaire class that has really stolen democracy from America’s working families, and there’s just not another candidate that’s prepared to do that.”

The Communication Workers of America is a sponsor of In These Times. Sponsors play no role in editorial content. In These Times staff members are also members of the CWA.

Steve Payne was an organizer for SEIU in Minneapolis for eight years. He is now a graduate student at the University of Memphis.

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