Communication Workers of America becomes the latest union to endorse Sanders.

Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) participate in a demonstration, Saturday Aug. 11, 2012, outside Verizon's offices in Philadelphia. Thousands of union members are expected to rally in support for a second bill of rights for the American worker, organizers of "Workers Stand for America" say they expect upward of 20,000 people to attend the all-day event in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)

Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) participate in a demonstration outside Verizon’s offices in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)

According to NBC news, the 700,000 member union will today announce that it is endorsing Bernie Sanders’ candidacy to be the Democrat presidential candidate. The CWA is the biggest union to endorse Sanders, after a recent endorsement by the 250,000 strong postal union APWU.

Sanders recently backed the CWA and IBEW unions in a dispute with the Verizon phone and internet company. Former CWA president Larry Cohen is active in the Sanders campaign, and in a speech made at a rally attended by Sanders, said:

‘I am proud to stand with Sen. Bernie Sanders and hundreds of Verizon Workers at a Wireless retail store in Manhattan, as 39,000 CWA and IBEW members battle for their contract and the organizing and bargaining rights of Verizon Wireless workers.

Few senators or major candidates for president have ever sided with workers in these epic battles. We have come to accept neutrality from Democrats as enough, while Republicans openly side with management. Sanders said it clearly enough in a written message read to 12,000 Verizon members as they rallied on a Saturday in August right before the contract expired, “I am hopeful you will reach a fair contract. But if you run into roadblocks, as in years past, know that I will be there with you until a fair contract is negotiated.”’

Other unions endorsing Sanders include the APWU, electrical union UE and IBEW, a chapter of the radical West Coast dockers’ union ILWU and some region structures of the SEIU and the AFL-CIO federation. Sanders is also endorsed by Friends of the Earth, alternative music veterans Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins and Thurston Moore, Billy Bragg, actors Daniel Craig and John Cusack, and Patch Adams.

Hilary Clinton still leads with endorsements from major unions, including public sector giant AFSCME, teachers’ union AFT and the two million strong service sector union behind the Fight for $15 campaign, the SEIU. The Clinton campaign claims to have the backing of unions representing 12 million workers, though some rank and file activists have expressed anger at the endorsements.

Clinton is the mainstream centre left’s preferred candidate, having picked up endorsements from international politicians such as former French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, as well as celebrities such as 50 Cent, Ben Affleck and Jon Bon Jovi.

Sanders’ campaign has proved polarising for the Left, with similar arguments to those in the UK around the “electability” of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. However, he has undoubtedly shifted the debate, and helped make union demands central. His backing for the $15 an hour minimum wage has lead Clinton to pledge a more modest $12, which would still be a major boost from the current $7.25 and a crucial victory for low wage workers and their unions.

The SEIU’s decision to back Clinton, despite the fact that it is Sanders’ who backs their core living wage campaign, may seem surprising, but it is based on the union’s calculation that it is absolutely imperative that a Democrat win the election, and that the US is not ready for Sanders.

Arguably the most important impact of Sanders’ candidacy has been making “socialism” part of the political vocabulary in the US again. For a long time seen as a political insult used to smear left of centre candidates, Sanders’ unapologetic defence of socialism is helping to redefine how Americans see their society – “socialism” was the most looked up word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary this year.

The Sanders campaign shows a clear trajectory from the Occupy movement to the White House via the Fight for $15: although Occupy was eventually dispersed by police, it lead to a wave of activism in other campaigns that included the Occupy inspired and SEIU-backed living wage campaign Fight for $15, and Black Lives Matter. This has forced the issues of racism and a living wage onto the political agenda and into public discourse.

Whoever wins the Democrat nomination, grassroots activism around the Sanders’ campaign has been a major boost for union issues in the US.

 


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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