By Rand Wilson and Peter Olney. First published by Dollars and Sense.
The seven national unions that endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for president have come together to back Our Revolution — a national network created to continue the movement that grew out of the Sanders’ challenge in the Democratic primaries.
Currently there are more than 300 local Our Revolution formations in the U.S. and four State Committees (in Texas, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Maryland). These Our Revolution state and local chapters have been formed out of the activism and commitment generated by the Sanders campaign. They are autonomous, mostly volunteer organizations that rely on funding from their membership base.
The unions — the Amalgamated Transit Union, the American Postal Workers Union, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, the Communications Workers of America, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, National Nurses United, and United Electrical Workers — have formed Labor for Our Revolution. The group’s purpose is to assist Our Revolution’s campaigns and continue to tap into Sanders’ campaign base to gain support for collective bargaining, contract campaigns, and organizing. The people behind the alliance believe that Our Revolution won’t succeed without a solid foundation in the working class and strong support from the labor movement.
Communications Workers of America (CWA) past president Larry Cohen, who helped lead labor support for the Sanders campaign, is now the Our Revolution board chair and a key leader of Labor for Our Revolution. Cohen is urging union leaders and members to plug into local groups or form new ones of their own.
At a national Labor for Our Revolution meeting in Chicago, United Electrical Workers (UE) General President Peter Knowlton made a presentation about the networks mission and UE union members’ growing support for it.
We follow in the footsteps of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “The labor movement is the principal force necessary to transform workers’ oppression and despair into hope and progress.” Unions, along with workers’ centers and other workers’ organizations, must prioritize policies that strengthen and fortify the organization of workers in order to protect us against the ravages of capitalism. We can deepen and reinforce this perspective in Our Revolution.
The Labor for Our Revolution representative for the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), Melissa Dimondstein, described her union’s support for the effort and shared excerpts from an APWU statement:
“Unions getting involved in Labor for Our Revolution give us the ability to influence Our Revolution so that it has significant focus on the working class. … It also gives us the opportunity to organize our own members around broad, working-class issues. Labor for Our Revolution is an opportunity to help build a movement that crosses all the political persuasions of our members. The issues of the Sanders campaign were put before the people as a referendum — and the people spoke. So let’s go out and build motion and power around these demands.”
Now the core Labor for Our Revolution unions are reaching out to the over 100 local unions and the tens of thousands of union members who supported Labor for Bernie to join the network. As an organizational tool, Labor for Our Revolution has crafted a simple resolution in support of the project that it asks local unions to ratify.
The most important challenge for Our Revolution and this new labor network will be to contribute meaningful political support to shaping the outcome of the 2018 mid-term Congressional elections. There is real potential for the Democratic Party to recapture the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, the largely corporate-controlled Democratic Party is reluctant to support economically populist candidates who explicitly challenge Wall Street, campaign for Medicare for All, or promote free higher education.
This past summer, Labor for Our Revolution began supporting the struggle within the Democratic Party by demanding that all Democratic members of Congress co-sponsor eight bills, including Medicare for All and Free College Tuition (#PeoplesPlatform), that taken together are a broad populist program. The “Summer for Progress” campaign defined a clear anti- corporate platform that should be attractive to all working people who are tired of Wall Street calling all the shots. In September, the Summer for Progress coalition will release a final People’s Platform scorecard.
Another way that unions and Our Revolution are challenging the corporate agenda and Donald Trump is the “Pick Up the Pen” tour in the midwest battleground states spearheaded by Good Jobs Nation. Chuck Jones, the retired United Steelworkers union leader at Carrier who engaged in a Twitter war with Trump over the bogus job preservation numbers that he claimed after the election, is leading a pick-up truck tour of Rust Belt states highlighting Trump’s failure to use his executive purchasing power to save jobs.
The enthusiasm for the Sanders campaign and Labor for Bernie showed the potential for a new progressive wing in the labor movement. Labor for Our Revolution’s mission to unite union members and other workers around Our Revolution’s populist platform is a promising next step. For it to succeed, many more unions on the national and local levels will have to join and work together towards a new vision of labor’s role in politics.
Rand Wilson is organizing director at SEIU Local 888 and a volunteer organizer for Labor for Our Revolution.
Peter Olney is retired ILWU organizing director and a labor trainer and consultant.