Labor for Bernie?

Posted on June 26, 2015 by

Friends are asking my opinion of the Sanders candidacy, partly because of my background and connection to Vermont.

I left the state a long time ago but return fairly often.

I remember Sanders from the ’70s when he was with Liberty Union, a radical “third party” roughly equivalent to California’s Peace and Freedom. I was more interested then in another of LU’s leaders, political science scholar and author Michael Parenti who was my neighbor in Putney.

I came to L.A. in ’81 just when Sanders took office as Burlington mayor.

Sanders makes great speeches from the Senate and I was impressed about 10 years ago when I saw him speak at a local gathering of Vermonters. He is very good at explaining how elites use wedge issues to divert workers from focusing on economic inequality.

I always had the feeling that Vermont’s uniquely accessible political culture enabled Bernie’s rise. That doesn’t detract from him. He’s a very smart guy. But if he hadn’t migrated north, I can picture Sanders teaching political science at Brooklyn College.

I’ve heard that Bernie is not especially “likeable” but I don’t think that matters very much (Obama is extraordinarily likeable but only marginally successful at moving the agenda).

Labor for Bernie” is building steam for obvious reasons. But I’m holding back. First of all, I’m not quite finished with my political hibernation. Exhausted by the disappointments of the Obama years, I’m just beginning to peek out of the cave.

Also, the gender issue will be huge among Democrats this cycle and I just don’t believe that primary voters will again throw Hillary overboard for a male politician.

Comments (6)


  1. Irene Fertik says:

    You echo my thoughts, Lou (living in VT. from 79 – 85 as a staff photog on The Burlington Free Press).. I always say that I was one of the 10 votes he won the mayoralty with in 81…… He is not so like-able in person,,,but, I am voting for him in the primary (if it is not a close call) in order to push Hillary more to the left!!!

  2. John Connolly says:

    My wife and I had “Bagels with Bernie” and 200 of his Best Friends in Van Nuys last Saturday morning. The event was terrific and Sanders was pretty amazing, making his stump speech sound committed, fresh and damned exciting. Sen. Sanders was in LA to appear on Bill Maher’s HBO show the night before, and he attended several campaign events across our region on Saturday and a big rally in Las Vegas, of all places, before arriving in LA. (I hope he was able to fly into Burbank instead of LAX!)
    When he was still in the House, Bernie worked with our union — the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, (now SAG/AFTRA) AFL-CIO — when we were running a major campaign opposing the concentration of media ownership along with our allies Free Press (the dynamic Media Democracy organization), and the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees. Rep. Sanders not only supported our fight on paper but organized other Members of Congress to actively support the campaign. He arranged for an excellent and well-attended news conference in the US Capitol with a group of supportive Reps and Senators. He also spoke at Media Democracy gatherings across the country and lobbied the FCC with us.
    As a former national union President (AFTRA) and Executive Director (Actors’ Equity) I’m supporting Bernie because he supports Workers and Artists with a Equalitarian Vision for The United States which is not only appealing or romantic, it is in fact the strategic vision we need for the survival of a reasonable standard of living and democracy for the working people of this country.
    I’m NOT supporting Bernie just to move Hilary to the Left, but to force the overall electoral discussion to where it should be; to firmly plant a pro-working class and pro-middle class agenda in the middle of the Presidential debate for the next 16 months where it should be.
    Hilary Clinton is smart, tough, analytical, and ambitious; she’s runs tough smart, disciplined campaigns; and she’s enjoyed victories with modesty, and taken defeats with courage. I’ve worked with her, and I like her. She’ll make her own strategic decisions on ideology and campaigning. Is she a “Focus-Group”, “Pollster-Drivien”, “Parse-Them-Phrases” Candidate? Oh Yeah. But she too has been supportive of working people — far more than her spouse.
    But it’s been Sanders who led the way in standing up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and shook the neo-Liberal and Rightist Establishments to their roots with the first-round defeat in the House, and the first real threat to the essentially anti-worker consensus on trade deals. And Bernie could stand on his bona-fides as a NAFTA opponent too, unlike Hilary.

    (In a small, private meeting with a group of labor leaders a few years ago, Bill Clinton told me that he “had second thoughts, and kinda regretted” 1,00,00 lost jobs later … NAFTA: Waaay Too Little, and Far Too Late, eh?).

    Sanders has surprised the various wings of The Establishment by drawing the biggest and most truly excited and responsive crowds of any Presidential candidate, so far. This is because he is talking about issues that real working people care about (as opposed to the undefined and vaguely creepy “every-day people” of Hilary’s campaign). This despite campaigns by Chris Matthews and other “Liberals” to cheapen, mock and dismiss Sanders as irrelevant and a “minor distraction”.

    Bernie’s campaign stance is not a pressure tactic or a smart-ass ploy to make him look good, seem avuncular or “nicer”, or even more popular. And he is not a “distraction’.

    He is campaigning on a program he believes in, and in the process of his thrillingly popular campaign so far, he may well take the word “Socialist” out of the Book of Cheap Tea Party Epithets, and place it where it belongs: as a serious attempt to help America’s working people adopt an ideology and policies far more in line with the actual needs of our People, rather than our Bosses: Fair Trade, Saving the Environment, Workers’ Rights, Progressive Immigration Policies, Black Lives DO Matter, Break Up the Big Banks, Guarantee and Expand the Right to Vote, Full LBGT Rights, Real Jobs for Real Infrastructure Needs, End the Endless Wars …

    And even I have to admit, the fact that he’s doing this while running for the Democratic nomination, is more positive and exciting than I thought possible.

    I don’t CARE if he isn’t the nicest guy around … neither was Eugene V. Debs or Lenin … but I hear that Rosa Luxemberg, Big Bill Haywood, Emma Goldman, Abraham Lincoln and Trotsky were all fun at a Party!

    John Connolly

    • Peter B. Collins says:

      My grandfather was from Vermont, and I do see Bernie as a unique Green Mountain Boy. I know Vermont politics a bit, and don’t think he could’ve gotten elected in most other places. I’ve interviewed him many times, including when I subbed for Thom Hartmann for his weekly Brunch with Bernie.

      He’s very bright, passionate about his core issues. He’s pretty serious, will tolerate a joke but go right back to the matter. Like most Vermonters, he is approachable but not real warm and fuzzy.

      While he has opposed Bush and Obama wars and advocates cuts to the Pentagon, he doesn’t have a clear foreign policy agenda, and mostly votes with the AIPAC bloc on Israel.

      I can’t vote for Hillary, my objections are mostly from her service as senator and SecState; but all of the baggage from the 90′s will be aired out by the Koch network, if she is the nominee.

      Her hawkish views as SecState are my big beef: she was the lead advocate for overthrowing Khaddafi, which I think is a much bigger blunder than whatever she did about Benghazi. The Clinton Foundation is a venue for the corrupt exchanges of money and power, and it will be a big liability when the race heats up.

      I hear lots of people support Hillary just because she’s a woman, but many of us on the left got badly burned by the identity politics of Obama. Many of her boosters can’t imagine that she could win the nomination but lose the election. Her negatives are very high, with few undecideds–she has little room to grow.

      With a huge and weak GOP field, this is the cycle where we can fight for our real values–like single payer and anti-TPP–by supporting Sanders and not just accepting her “inevitability” for the second time.

      Like my old AFTRA pal Connolly, I think that Bernie’s actions almost always match his rhetoric. Hillary is much more of an opportunist.

  3. Marty Glennon says:

    There is no reason not to get behind Bernie if you’re for Labor. He’s an unapologetic supporter of unions unlike so many of our “friends” in the Democratic party. He’s not likeable because he doesn’t play nice with big business. if that’s a reason for Labor to sit on the sidelines then they’ll have one less person at our funeral. The political institutions have not worked for Labor when there’s been a push back from big Business and Wall street, it’s about time we support someone that supports us – I don’t care to vote for the popular candidate anymore who tells us they support us and then pushesfor legislation such as TPP, TPA TIPP, etc. Stop voting against your interests and vote for them – that’s real change I can believe in.

  4. Scott Shuster says:

    I recall Nader filling giant stadiums, but his green party plus some other balot lines candiacy was unable to breach the protective coating that protects the two party system and the crooked elections process and primary process in most states. He wrote a great book on his experience.

    It will be interesting to see what happens in Fusion states if Sanders gains popular support and gains two ballot lines. Like in NY running as a Dem and Working Families Party appearing twice on the Ballot.

    Money, access, power will determine quite a bit of tbe outcome

    Clearly Sanders message (and history) resonates more closely with a working class, living wage, universal health care, anti war (execpt Isreal) post Occupy, BLM, anti police brutality, cost of higher education, student debt, imigration reform, anti eviction, jail the banksters, anti corporate base.

    Large segments of Oganized Labor are holding back its Hillary endorsement, and for good reason. Recall the internal divisions in Labor during earlier primaries (The disagreement between the leadership of UNITEHERE comes to mind, but there were others.), The Obama euphoria l that left Labor asleep at the wheel during the devestating 2010 midterm, the failure of the Labors all in over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in 2007-2008 and the beating labor is taking around some parts of the country

    “I wont get fooled again” (The Who)

    I am not suprised that once you leave the major labor power centers (Los Angeles, NY, Chicago etc) institutions are skittish.

    Personal Politics, Early Adopter stratigies and lefty unions aside, I am not sure why a keep prepping, keep mobilizing, wait and see attitude isnt the best course of action for many institutions.

    Peace especially now!

  5. Well, if i have to choose between Bernie and Hillary …Bernie all the way. And so should labor — in my humble opinion — after all they don’t listen to my thoughts anyway! :)
    However, like you, exhausted from the sad display of Barrack Obama i am leaving the politics behind before the election even happens.
    I will vote — however it will most likely be for a third party.

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