TWO RECENT articles in the US socialist magazine Jacobin celebrate the announcement of Bernie Sanders, the Democratic senator for Vermont, that he will be entering the US presidential election for 2020.
The Jacobin advances left perspectives on politics, economics, and culture and is read by 1,000,000 people a month.
Meagan Day’s article is entitled, ‘Bernie Is Running, Thank God’.
She opens by saying, ‘Judging from its early entrants, the politics of this upcoming Democratic presidential primary will be the most progressive in decades. All of the confirmed contenders claim to support Medicare for All, for example – an idea that most in the party ignored or outright rejected as recently as three years ago.
‘Some candidates are also running on ideas like universal child care and a Green New Deal, a notable departure from the pro-corporate politics that have characterised the party’s programme for years.
‘That leftward shift is a positive development, and there’s a reason for it. The reason is Bernie Sanders.’
She directs her readers: ‘If you seek economic and social justice, you should support Bernie Sanders for president.
‘Why? Because there’s a class war raging, and Sanders is the only one running who sees it, and who wants to build working-class forces to fight back.
‘For four decades, neoliberal politicians in both parties have shamelessly and relentlessly deregulated corporations, cut taxes on the rich, stymied unions, starved social services, privatised public goods, and bailed out economic elites while imposing austerity on everyone else.
‘The result for ordinary working people has been stagnating wages and ballooning debt, heightened anxiety and lowered expectations.’
Sanders has upset all that: ‘In 2016, Sanders violated that taboo – and found the American people remarkably receptive.
Day describes Sanders’ progress in 2016: ‘Sanders came out of left field to garner thirteen million votes against the party front-runner.
‘By continuing to use his platform to push for ambitious redistributive policies and highlight working-class struggles, he graduated from the campaign to become the most popular politician in the country.’
Day anticipates Sanders’ election programme including, ‘Medicare for All, free college tuition, and student debt relief, universal child care, massive investment in public housing and education, a national $15 minimum wage, expanding Social Security, demilitarising the police, and so on.’
The only note of caution she raises is that ‘Sanders has an imperfect anti-imperialist track record, but is the only presidential candidate who suggests any hope of a new American foreign policy paradigm.’
She concludes that ‘It appears that the sun is rising on working-class politics in the United States.’
In the second article promoting Sanders’ candidacy, RoseAnn DeMoro, the former executive director of National Nurses United and of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organising Committee, argues that ‘Organised Labour Must Back Bernie Sanders, observing that ‘Sanders is an anomaly in US politics.’
DeMoro respects Sanders’ 40-year history of standing up for workers’ rights.
‘That constancy of moral principles in favour of working people made Sanders the strongest candidate for organised labour in 2016.
‘Yet nearly all the major unions endorsed and supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign, even though her political record in support of labour was marginal at best.’
Sanders did of course end up endorsing Clinton after a massive crowd-funded campaign which promoted ‘Our revolution’, as he called it.
Had he won, DeMoro argues with an eye on the future: ‘That victory would have meant a massive shift in the political terrain not just of the United States but even the world.’
Coming to the heart of the matter, she poses the question: ‘So with a very long record for working people, why didn’t Sanders receive the endorsement of the top leadership in most unions?’
She answers her question:
‘But the unquestioned loyalty to the Democratic Party’s anointed candidates is institutionalised for most unions …
‘They worried about the consequences of a President Clinton who did not forget that labour chose not to back her in the primary. The irony here of course is that Clinton’s political vision for working people was compromised by her extraordinarily comfortable relationship with Wall Street.’
What DeMoro heard most about a Sanders’ presidency was ‘unfeasible’, she writes,
‘In 2015, as a then-little-known Sanders toured the country, tens of thousands of workers listened.
‘Despite their national unions’ endorsement for Clinton, union workers formed “Labor for Bernie” groups throughout the country. Many who were not familiar with Sanders previously now knew him as a politician who would stand with them on the picket lines.’
The initial excitement turned to rage when ‘Working people saw Democratic Party operatives rigging caucuses, watching the authentic pro-labour candidate be unfairly displaced by that party – a party that took huge amount in contributions funded by their own union dues dollars.
‘Clinton would not even agree to the demands for Fight for $15, perhaps the hallmark campaign of the labor movement in a decade, let alone Medicare for All.’
This then created the vacuum for Trump to fill, Demoro argues: ‘Donald Trump’s campaign seized upon the populist message of Sanders.
‘Even though he was a member of the wealthy elite, he cynically appropriated Bernie’s message and ran on a message of both betraying that elite and arguing that the Democrats had betrayed workers.’
As Demoro sees it, ‘Today’s labour movement stands on a razor’s edge between becoming a progressive, reinvigorated champion for and of working people, or an historical footnote in modern capitalism’s mindlessly amoral quest to amass more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands.’
Given their conservatism and ties with the Democratic Party, ‘Will they (the labour leaders) tell themselves that passing on the best chance in their lifetimes to bend and reshape the arc of history to elevate the life chances for hundreds of millions of Americans is too much of a risk to attempt?
‘If labour continues with business as usual, fundamental change will never happen.
‘And it demands that we be authors of our own destiny, to transform our country. By fighting for Bernie, the American labor movement can play a decisive role in this transformation.
‘History is calling. Will unions answer?’