Famed consumer advocate and former independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader recently wrote a column entitled “Big Union Leaders Betray Sanders and Workers”. The piece shines light on what is an open secret within the ranks of labor, an endorsement of a candidate by a union is not always a reflection of the opinion, will or best interests of the membership.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who is currently under FBI investigation) has to be the most scandal ridden and controversial candidate for president the Democratic machine has ever endorsed in memory. A polarizing figure, Clinton’s negatives are not far behind the despised-by-millions, Republican anti-establishment insurgent candidate, businessman Donald Trump.
To be clear from the get go, unions have political action funds that are capitalized on a voluntary basis by the membership of a union. A union PAC will typically have a director and assistants, and there will be local, regional and national levels of PAC’s. As per federal law, expenditures on political activity will have to be forwarded to union delegates or the membership for ratification depending on the labor organization.
Unions overwhelmingly endorse Democratic candidates for office. This of course is not taken well by registered Republican members, and they usually opt-out of contributions to their union PACs.
The above being said, the selection of candidates to endorse for office is typically done in one of two ways, a full-membership poll and selection; or, by a recommendation by the union PAC to the executive committee, which may approve the selection or a recommendation to a delegate body of a candidate to back.
To give one specific example of the above, as a former elected regional delegate in the Carpenters Union (UBC) I can speak from experience. For example, our PAC would recommend a donation of $2500 to a labor friendly candidate. The recommendation and rationale for donation would be presented to the regional executive committee. If the recommendation was approved, it would be presented in the same manner to the delegate body for final approval, rejection or revision of the PAC expenditure.
Thus, in my example, you can see selection of an endorsement is performed in a somewhat democratic procedure in compliance with applicable labor laws. The problem is selecting candidates in the above manner alienates many members because the general membership is not polled directly in the selection process. As a member of the National Writers Union Local 1981 (UAW), I can tell you I received a letter from the leadership which allowed me to endorse a candidate.
Senator Bernie Sanders has the support of a significant portion of the voters within the Democratic Party. Many union members feel disenfranchised by their own union leadership when they are not asked directly whom to endorse or a union makes a premature candidate endorsement. The open secret in unions is that the leadership, in some cases, is out of touch with the membership – just as we see the Democratic National Committee is out of touch with many of the voters.
Getting back to Mrs. Clinton, a staunch “free trader”, she is tied to the hip to NAFTA and other bad trade agreements which triggered a massive redistribution of wealth to the top 10% of the nation. Falsely named “free trade agreements” these pacts have been proven job destroyers for the working class and especially unions. NAFTA took effect during the Clinton regime in 1994, overcoming great resistance from organized labor. Since the late 80’s, neo-liberal, third wave corporate Democrats have wrecked the “party of the working class and unions“and set the stage for the Sanders “Political Revolution”.
An objective analysis of the sordid history of the corporate–driven “Dollar” Bill Clinton’s leadership in the oval office (which Hillary supported publically) and the following years of domino-effect job losses resulting in destructive social and economic ramifications give solid reasons to beware of Clinton campaign promises. Senator Clinton’s later support of additional and unnecessary trade giveaways merit the disqualification of a union endorsement of the neo-liberal status-quo Clinton political agenda.
It certainly would seem that some of the political departments of some major unions bought into the “it’s her turn” and the “Clinton is the frontrunner” and “coronation” mentality. Of course, we know that before a single vote was cast anywhere, both Clinton and the spectacular failure, Jeb (!) Bush was the early frontrunners for president, both with a container ship full of cash to go the distance. The Hillary Victory Fund is an example of the early establishment inertia that contributed towards to the herd of endorsements stampeding towards Hillary.
The AFL-CIO is currently officially on the sidelines with an endorsement in the Democratic race, wisely adopting a wait and see position in the now tightening race. This flies in the face of the “All in for Hillary” political strategy of some of the largest and most powerful member unions of the AFL-CIO. To the chagrin of some of the pro-Clinton major players in organized labor, the executive council of the AFL-CIO did not officially endorse the Clinton bid for the POTUS back in February.
For example, the “free trade” albatross hanging around Clinton’s neck has to be a big reason why the USW has not endorsed her bid for president. “Slick Willie” Clinton and his First Lady were hard-selling the Bush conceived NAFTA, which did in fact increase American exports-like well paying union jobs, whole industries and we know the rest.
The progressive SEIU, which has been one of the driving forces behind the #FightFor15, has gone all in for Clinton. The problem with many in their membership is the fact that the union has invested millions into the organizing and advocacy campaign to #RaiseTheWage, and their candidate of choice, the “incremental” minded centrist Clinton will not simply endorse a minimum wage of $15. Both Senator Sanders and former presidential candidate Gov. Martin O’Malley stated in plain English at a debate to the country they support $15.
At the same debate, Former Secretary of State Clinton was pinned down and with no escape, stated she favors a $12 minimum wage. Given the fact that a “yuge” portion of working families and especially women, are barely meeting the bills making under $15 an hour- makes lower paid union members and millions more non-union workers wonder about her campaign slogan: “Fighting for us”. Just who are us?
The opinion of millions of union workers is that the Democratic Party establishment has sold out unions and NAFTA is a prime example of the sell-out by the so-called “Limousine Liberals”. There is probably nobody on the political scene that is more of an embodiment of the consummate party insider and prime mover in a political machine than both of the Clintons.
Union members have long recognized the Democratic establishment takes organized labors support for granted. “They come around with hat in hand seeking money and support and once they get elected they screw us over” is the typical mindset in labor.
As a union populist, I can tell you the mentality in the membership (across all unions) is increasingly headed towards the conclusion that union leadership on the higher levels are too far removed from average workers, local unions and out of touch with their members. In the face of declining union density and increasing attacks on labor by big business and their puppets in government, many union people want bold and visionary leadership, not the pragmatic and incremental approach that has contributed to the decline of organized labor.
With attacks on unions and all workers rising, coupled with the fact that U.S. wage inequality is at crisis levels, workers are trapped in a race to the bottom. The U.S. Dept. of Labor reports, 71% of American workers made less than $50,000 last year. Wage stagnation is seemingly a permanent fixture of the 21st Century economy appears to be completely disconnected with the old standard metric of productivity, which has risen 22% since 2000. The average median wages have risen 1.8% adjusted for inflation over 15 years, while wages have fallen by 3% since the Wall Street collapse of 2008.
The old saying of trade unionists is “I may be blue collar but I am not stupid” applies to all workers. The recent public relations debacle staged by the failing Clinton campaign wonks was a fake, phony subway ride to nowhere. What thinking person in their right mind in New York will believe that the multi-millionaire former First Lady, Secretary of State and Senator ever rides the subway? Perhaps someone in the 4th grade will believe that steaming pile of crap! We vote and we are not stupid.
The subway publicity stunt exposes the elitist Clinton hacks as completely out of touch with 21st Century reality in America. The smoke and mirrors routine is backfiring on the control mechanisms of business, media and government.
The negatives of Clinton are high. Hillary refuses to #ReleaseTheTranscripts of her $5000 dollar minute speeches to corporate and financial elites and there is a possibility Clinton will be indicted by the Department of Justice over the email scandal. Opinion polls show Hillary is not considered “trustworthy” and her political history is repulsive list of controversy, scandals and bad decisions.
Thankfully, Mrs. Clinton’s once commanding once lead in the polls is sinking like the Titanic despite the “rigging” of the election by the entire neo-liberal political and economic power structure. Senator Sanders populist and progressive “Political Revolution” is taking root fast and the oppressive government/corporate machine is afraid. The media has been exposed as propagandists for the status quo, the #OccupyCNN protests and the exploding relevance and popularity of independent, non-profit media and social media are a big part of the “Revolution”.
Labor unions were founded on risk taking and visionary leadership. They were built on the needs of the many not the few. Sadly, some in labor ignore this at their own peril. Bernie Sanders is a once in a lifetime candidate at a crucial point in history and some of the union leaders pulled the trigger too fast and missed the mark.
There are photos of Bernie Sanders walking the picket line with everyday union members. To my knowledge as a unionist, there are no reports of Hillary Clinton ever walking a picket line with unfairly treated workers. Let’s leave her disgraceful tenure as a high-level player at anti-worker and anti-union Wal-Mart for another day.
It is sad for me to think how far ahead Sanders would be in this race if some of the major unions waited to endorse someone or flat out endorsed Bernie. But don’t forget, the ultimate smoke and mirrors is that any union member can wear a Hillary 2016 shirt and enter the privacy of a voting booth and pull the lever for the candidate with a 100% pro-labor record. That candidate is Senator Bernie Sanders.
Follow Mitch on Twitter: @LaborDemocracy_