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Trade Unionists for Bernie

Carolyn Egan

March 14, 2016

It has been fascinating watching the Sanders phenomenon in the United States.

Hillary Clinton took 75 per cent of the Black vote in the South Carolina primary which is a real weakness in the Sanders campaign. Spike Lee has come out for Bernie and Eric Garner’s daughter, whose father was killed by police in New York City, has made a strong video supporting him. So the fight is still on.

The very fact that an open “socialist”, albeit a social democrat, has become more than a fringe candidate for the US presidency is remarkable. It has sent a chill through the Democratic Party establishment and has thrilled so many who have felt they had no one who spoke to their interests.

Of course after years of being an independent member of congress and more recently a senator from the state of Vermont he has chosen to run within the Democratic Party. He has pledged to support its chosen candidate and as Chris Hedges and others from the left have said he is channelling all the momentum that his candidacy has generated into a party of business. After the election what will happen with all those hundreds of thousands if not millions who have been organizing for his election?

The 99%

All that is true but at the same time the very fact that he has garnered such broad based support shows that something significant is changing in the US political landscape. An avowed socialist won the New Hampshire primary in a landslide, virtually tied the Iowa caucuses and lost by 5 per cent in Nevada. It may be that he cannot sustain the support but something is happening beneath the surface that speaks to the legacy of the Occupy movement and its championing of the needs of the 99%.

Sanders is calling for a “political” revolution and has given a reason for so many of the disenfranchised to become politically active. His platform calls for a $15 minimum wage, free tuition in public universities, healthcare for all, closing the ever increasing wealth gap, and providing veterans with the care they were promised on returning home. No matter what happens in the election, hopefully these movements on the ground will continue and grow with broader support. So many have been electrified by seeing their issues become part of the national dialogue and these campaigns have to be continued. It is the fight from below that will make them a reality.

So many young people have become politically engaged and this must continue. As many have said, Sanders has made socialism a safe word in American politics. Polling is indicating that socialist ideas are becoming something that the US electorate, particularly the young, are becoming more open to.

Trade Unionists for Bernie

There are 10,000 activists in “Trade Unionists for Bernie” and they have been working hard in their unions. The Communication Workers, the American Postal Workers, National Nurses United, the National Union of Health Care Workers, the United Electrical Workers have all endorsed Sanders. The AFL CIO has not endorsed either candidate and neither have the United Steelworkers, the UAW, the Teamsters, the  Amalgamated Transit Union, the Fire Fighters and others.

Clinton has SEIU, UFCW, AFSCME and the American Federation of Teachers but it’s out of the ordinary for so many unions to be withholding their support from the mainstream candidate in the primaries. If you talk to those involved, many rank-and-file members are working for the only alternative they see for a new American politics centred on the working class and economic struggle. Unfortunately there is no other party outside the Democrats for them to become active in.

What we are seeing is a revolt of the base in an American context. It is part of the same phenomenon we are seeing in Podemos in Spain and other such groupings. Sanders has popularized “socialism,” however defined, to an audience of tens of millions in the strongest imperialist nation. The question is what will happen after the election with all of those who have been mobilized.

Join for the conference Ideas for real change: Marxism 2016, which includes the discussion "What do we mean by socialism," "Unions organizing in a time of precarity," and "Spirit of '46: the Stelco strike." Register today and join/share on facebook.

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