Independent Rank-and-File Political Action

Working people continue to face daily assault. The economic and political attacks and repression against working-class and oppressed communities and organizations have intensified. Organized labor — barely one tenth of the workforce today — is the last defensive bastion. Corporate executives and Republican leaders know that if they destroy the union movement they eliminate the last substantial obstacle to their greedy agenda. Workers are responding with strikes, new political insurgencies, and many other forms of mass fightback. 

President Trump, while posturing as a populist, has actually governed like past Republicans. He has pursued an agenda of deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy. He has stacked the courts with right-wing, anti-worker judges and appointed union busters to head the Labor Board and the Department of Labor, industry lobbyists to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and a pharmaceutical lobbyist to head the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). He has differed from more recent Republican presidents mostly in his willingness to engage in overtly racist language and policies. 

The 2018 midterms provided some reprieve. The Democrats regained the U.S. House of Representatives and made significant gains on the state level across the country, stopping the ability of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to further the extreme anti-worker agenda in states like Wisconsin. Many progressive ballot initiatives were passed as well, including the overturning of right-to-work in Missouri and expansion of Medicaid in “conservative” states such as Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah — showing yet again that when given a chance to vote directly on issues, a majority of Americans in all states support progressive policies which help working people. 

But although there were some victories in 2018 for progressives, there were disappointments as well. In Iowa, despite hopes by many, including UE members, for a Democratic victory and a return to divided government, another Republican governor was elected and the GOP retained their total control of state government. As a result, the 2017 Iowa law all but outlawing collective bargaining and barring public-sector unions from using dues deduction remains in force. Elections have consequences. 

Where the Democrats have failed, it has often been because of the inability of that party to provide inspirational action or a clear contrast with the Republican Party, which is nothing if not strident in sticking up for its “beliefs.” For example, in the Iowa Gubernatorial election, the Democratic candidate was an insurance executive who made over $3 million in the prior year — hardly the correct standard-bearer needed to appeal to many disaffected working-class voters across the state. 

The Democratic Party, after years of being largely dominated by corporate interests, is now facing an internal battle as unabashedly pro-worker, anti-corporate candidates are running and winning at the congressional, state, and local levels. This, combined with campaigns like Fight for $15, teachers’ strikes and other pushbacks against economic inequality has put pressure on Democratic politicians to stand up for working people. Hence, the House of Representatives passed a $15 minimum wage bill with support from virtually every Democrat. This is a symbolic move given the current occupant of the White House, but a good first step. 

However, much of the Democratic Party establishment remains quietly indifferent or even hostile to our agenda. We have no choice except to fight even harder to push candidates from all parties to address working-class issues. Fortunately, the presidential campaign of longtime UE ally Bernie Sanders offers many opportunities to amplify our issues during the current election season.

Bernie Sanders and UE have a relationship going back to his time as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. UE, the most progressive union in the state, and Bernie, an independent democratic socialist, have always been natural allies on everything from labor rights to single-payer health insurance to free public higher education. Bernie has consistently come to UE strike lines and workplace actions. He has assisted locals in contract fights. He has always had an open-door policy with UE, asking how he can use his power as a legislator to help us achieve a measure of justice in the workplace. Most recently, Bernie was an outspoken supporter of UE Locals 506 and 618 in their first contract struggle with their new employer, Wabtec, in early 2019. Bernie reached out to UE to offer whatever assistance that members needed and he could provide. He assigned staff to work with local leadership, offered his social media platforms for exposure and publicity, and featured Local 506 President Scott Slawson as the lead speaker at his nationally-televised kickoff rally during the strike. His support for UE members during the nine-day strike gave us needed national recognition and was instrumental in achieving a just settlement. We have every reason to believe this sort of open-door relationship would remain during a Bernie presidency.

What also sets Bernie apart from all other primary candidates is both his willingness and desire to use his campaign infrastructure to support workplace struggles. His campaign staff stand ready to use their massive email list and other methods to mobilize support for workers in contract or organizing fights, as they did for UE Locals 506 and 618. This is not something that just developed at election time — it has been part of his Our Revolution organization and keeps with Bernie’s understanding that needed change won’t come about unless broad sections of the working class are organized to take on the corporate powers who currently dominate politics.

During the 2016 primaries, UE endorsed Bernie in a “bottom up” manner, with a number of locals and the delegates at each of the three UE regional councils voting to endorse him prior to the vote of the General Executive Board. Since that time, UE members and locals have continued to be engaged with Bernie through Labor for Our Revolution, the fight for Medicare for All, and workplace struggles. Based on ongoing discussions and activities throughout the union, it is clear that Bernie is the candidate with the broadest and most enthusiastic support among our membership. For all these reasons, we support his candidacy. 

While the outcome of the 2020 elections will have major consequences for working people in this country, and it is critical that working people remove the anti-labor and racist Trump from office, we continue to believe that until American workers have an independent political voice and our own political party we will be forced to struggle on an unlevel playing field. UE follows the path of independent political action. We support or oppose candidates based upon their actions, not their words or party label. We do so with confidence that many millions of working people support our cause.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 76th UE CONVENTION:

  1. Calls on the union at all levels to:
    1. Educate and mobilize the membership to defeat the war against the working class;
    2. Support only lawmakers and candidates who consistently take concrete actions to defend working people;
    3. Mobilize the membership and work with allies to promote worker issues, including full collective bargaining rights for all workers, and to elect pro-worker candidates;
  2. Calls on locals and regions to contact lawmakers on key issues through petitions, letters, phone calls, emails, lobby visits, annual political action days, town hall meetings, rallies, marches, civil disobedience, and other means to gain positive political action;
  3. Urges all locals to undertake workplace campaigns to register members and their families to vote;
  4. Encourages UE regions, locals, and members to become involved in Our Revolution, Labor for Our Revolution, Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15, the Poor Peoples’ Campaign, and other working-class movements for defense and justice;
  5. Reaffirms our historical support for the formation of an independent working-class political party;
  6. Endorses the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders to be the 46th President of the United States and encourages every level of our union to work on his campaign.