Labor for Bernie 2020 Kicks Off in Detroit

by Jane Slaughter

Bernie Sanders visits UAW Local 600 in 2016. Photo Jim West (jimwestphoto.com)

In the normal course of affairs, union members pay little attention to their national union’s candidate endorsements. In 2015, with Bernie Sanders running for president, that changed. Hundreds of thousands of union members were inspired by a candidate who spoke for working people.

“Labor for Bernie” was formed to get unions and union members on board for a Bernie Sanders presidency.

In the Teachers union, Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Steelworkers, in particular, angry members pushed back when their leaders endorsed Hillary Clinton before the Democratic convention, or acted like they were about to. Scores of locals endorsed Bernie and seven national unions did. When Sanders won Michigan in March 2016, it was surely union members who put him over the top.

This year, Labor for Bernie is reviving. The founding meeting in Detroit took place May 22, with folks from the UAW, MEA, IBEW, Teamsters, and Teachers, not to mention a good number of non-union Bernie supporters who just can’t get enough. Several Detroit DSA members were there (Labor for Bernie is an independent project not tied to DSA or to the Sanders campaign).

Nationally, Labor for Bernie has two immediate campaigns: to get folks to pledge online to back Bernie, and for locals to pass resolutions asking their nationals to take a binding democratic membership referendum on whom to endorse.

More than 500 labor people have taken the pledge online (there were over 30,000 last time) and one railroad union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, has already endorsed him. The Machinists union has announced it will hold a referendum, and four Teachers locals have asked their national union to do the same.

That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 14 million union members and thousands of locals in the U.S. Labor for Bernie — which at this point has no money and no staff — has its work cut out.

Fortunately, Bernie continually shows his support for workers, by, for example, using his contact list to turn people out to picket lines. He has introduced bills that would extend collective bargaining rights to gig workers, incentivize corporations to pay at least $15 an hour, mandate seven annual days of paid sick leave, cap CEO compensation at 150 times the median employee pay, allow employees to form a union through a majority sign-up process, require employers to negotiate with a new union within 10 days, and end “right-to-Work” in the 28 states that have it, including Michigan.

The staff of Bernie’s campaign voted to join United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400.

The May 22 meeting Labor for Bernie meeting decided to set up a speakers bureau to send folks to union meetings; commission buttons and a Labor for Bernie t-shirt; produce a flyer; organize a watch party for the first Democratic debates June 26–27; and call through our list of 250-some local supporters from 2016.

If you know Bernie supporters who are union members, tell them about the next Labor for Bernie meeting Wednesday, June 12, 6:30 pm, Anchor Bar, 450 West Fort St., Detroit. Contact Peter Landon at redsolidarity@gmail.com to get involved.