Category: Winter 2017

The City in which I Love You

And when, in the city in which I love you,
even my most excellent song goes unanswered,
and I mount the scabbed streets,
the long shouts of avenues,
and tunnel sunken night in search of you…

That I negotiate fog, bituminous
rain ringing like teeth into the beggar’s tin,
or two men jackaling a third in some alley
weirdly lit by a couch on fire, that I
drag my extinction in search of you…

Past the guarded schoolyards, the boarded-up churches, swastikaed
synagogues, defended houses of worship, past
newspapered windows of tenements, along the violated,
the prosecuted citizenry, throughout this
storied, buttressed, scavenged, policed
city I call home, in which I am a guest…

a bruise, blue
in the muscle, you
impinge upon me.
As bone hugs the ache home, so
I’m vexed to love you, your body

the shape of returns, your hair a torso
of light, your heat
I must have, your opening
I’d eat, each moment
of that soft-finned fruit,
inverted fountain in which I don’t see me.

My tongue remembers your wounded flavor.
The vein in my neck
adores you. A sword
stands up between my hips,
my hidden fleece send forth its scent of human oil.

The shadows under my arms,
I promise, are tender, the shadows
under my face. Do not calculate,
but come, smooth other, rough sister.
Yet, how will you know me

among the captives, my hair grown long,
my blood motley, my ways trespassed upon?
In the uproar, the confusion
of accents and inflections
how will you hear me when I open my mouth?

Look for me, one of the drab population
under fissured edifices, fractured
artifices. Make my various
names flock overhead,
I will follow you.
Hew me to your beauty.

Stack in me the unaccountable fire,
bring on me the iron leaf, but tenderly.
Folded one hundred times and
creased, I’ll not crack.
Threshed to excellence, I’ll achieve you.

But in the city
in which I love you,
no one comes, no one
meets me in the brick clefts;
in the wedged dark,

no finger touches me secretly, no mouth
tastes my flawless salt,
no one wakens the honey in the cells, finds the humming
in the ribs, the rich business in the recesses;
hulls clogged, I continue laden, translated

by exhaustion and time’s appetite, my sleep abandoned
in bus stations and storefront stoops,
my insomnia erected under a sky
cross-hatched by wires, branches,
and black flights of rain. Lewd body of wind

jams me in the passageways, doors slam
like guns going off, a gun goes off, a pie plate spins
past, whizzing its thin tremolo,
a plastic bag, fat with wind, barrels by and slaps
a chain-link fence, wraps it like clung skin.

In the excavated places,
I waited for you, and I did not cry out.
In the derelict rooms, my body needed you,
and there was such flight in my breast.
During the daily assaults, I called to you,

and my voice pursued you,
even backward
to that other city
in which I saw a woman
squat in the street

beside a body,
and fan with a handkerchief flies from its face.
That woman
was not me. And
the corpse

lying there, lying there
so still it seemed with great effort, as though
his whole being was concentrating on the hole
in his forehead, so still
I expected he’d sit up any minute and laugh out loud:

that man was not me;
his wound was his, his death not mine.
and the soldier
who fired the shot, then lit a cigarette:
he was not me.

And the ones I do not see
in cities all over the world,
the ones sitting, standing, lying down, those
in prisons playing checkers with their knocked-out teeth:
they are not me. Some of them are

my age, even my height and weight;
none of them is me.
The woman who is slapped, the man who is kicked,
the ones who don’t survive,
whose names I do not know;

they are not me forever,
the ones who no longer live
in the cities in which
you are not,
the cities in which I looked for you.

The rain stops, the moon
in her breaths appears overhead.
The only sound now is a far flapping.

Over the National Bank, the flag of some republic or other
gallops like water or fire to tear itself away.


If I feel the night
move to disclosures or crescendos,
it’s only because I’m famished
for meaning; the night
merely dissolves.

And your otherness is perfect as my death.
Your otherness exhausts me,
like looking suddenly up from here
to impossible stars fading.
Everything is punished by your absence.

Is prayer, then, the proper attitude
for the mind that longs to be freely blown,
but which gets snagged on the barb
called world, that
tooth-ache, the actual? What prayer

would I build? And to whom?
Where are you
in the cities in which I love you,
the cities daily risen to work and to money,
to the magnificent miles and the gold coasts?

Morning comes to this city vacant of you.
Pages and windows flare, and you are not there.
Someone sweeps his portion of sidewalk,
wakens the drunk, slumped like laundry,
and you are gone.

You are not in the wind
which someone notes in the margins of a book.
You are gone out of the small fires in abandoned lots
where human figures huddle,
each aspiring to its own ghost.

Between brick walls, in a space no wider than my face,
a leafless sapling stands in mud.
In its branches, a nest of raw mouths
gaping and cheeping, scrawny fires that must eat.
My hunger for you is no less than theirs.

At the gates of the city in which I love you,
the sea hauls the sun on its back,
strikes the land, which rebukes it.
what ardor in its sliding heft,
a flameless friction on the rocks.

Like the sea, I am recommended by my orphaning.
Noisy with telegrams not received,
quarrelsome with aliases,
intricate with misguided journeys,
by my expulsions have I come to love you.

Straight from my father’s wrath,
and long from my mother’s womb,
late in this century and on a Wednesday morning,
bearing the mark of one who’s experienced
neither heaven nor hell,

my birthplace vanished, my citizenship earned,
in league with stones of the earth, I
enter, without retreat or help from history,
the days of no day, my earth
of no earth, I re-enter

the city in which I love you.
And I never believed that the multitude
of dreams and many words were vain.

Winter 2017

Volume 26 Issue 1 Winter 2017



From the Editorial Team

Under the Radar

By Sarah Jaffe

Unreported and under-reported news and views that matter.

On the Contrary

Did the Sanders Campaign Represent a Missed Opportunity for the U.S. Labor Movement? A Debate

We Believe that We Can Win!

By Larry Cohen

Why Hillary Clinton Deserved Labor’s Support

By Randi Weingarten and Leo Casey

The Future of Urban Populism: Will Cities Turn the Political Tides?

By J. Phillip Thompson

What are the prospects of an urban populism that requires people of color and white millennials to combine forces?


Victory at Verizon: The Anatomy of a Strike  

By Dan DiMaggio

Why the Verizon strike is a wake-up call for the labor movement facing technological change.


Milking Workers, Breaking Bodies: Health Inequality in the Dairy Industry

By Julie C. Keller, Margaret Gray, and Jill Lindsey Harrison

Will justice come to the new factories in the field?


Trust-Busting: Labor’s Forgotten Cause

By Carl T. Bogus

Workers should make common cause with consumers to break up corporate monopolies.


How Veterans Are Losing the War at Home: Making America Pain-Free for Plutocrats

and Big Pharma, but not Vets

By Ann Jones

Corporate America’s campaign to dismantle the public health care system for veterans.


Labor Under Putin: The State of the Russian Working Class    

By Paul T. Christensen

Can Russian workers stand up to the Putin oligarchy? 


Prison Guard Unions and Mass Incarceration: Prospects for an Improbable Alliance

By Austin McCoy

Can prisoner and their guards unite against the prison-industrial complex?


Income Inequality and Urban Displacement: The New Gentrification

By Karen Chapple

Is the affordable housing crisis really an income crisis?


Earth to Labor: Dispatches from the Climate Battleground

Standing Rock Solid with the Frackers: Are the Trades Putting Labor’s head in the Gas Oven?

By Sean Sweeney


Roots of Rebellion: A Guide to Insurgencies from Coast to Coast

Is This How You Treat a Guest? Seafood Processing Workers Organize to Change Low-Road Labor Laws

By Mariya Strauss


Organized Money: What Is Corporate America Thinking?

Gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau   

By Max Fraser


Books and the Arts

Pressing Charges

Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court

By Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve

Reviewed by Zohra Ahmed


Beg, Borrow, or Steal

Between Debt and the Devil: Money, Credit, and Fixing Global Finance

By Adair Turner

How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy

By Mehrsa Baradaran

Reviewed by Andrew Elrod


Life Beyond Liberalism

The Future We Want: Radical Ideas for the New Century

Edited by Sarah Leonard and Bhaskar Sunkara

Reviewed by Kate Aronoff


Act Local

The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and The Rise of a New Justice Movement

By William Barber (with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove)

America’s Social Arsonist: Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century

By Gabriel Thompson

Reviewed by Steve Early


Out of the Mainstream: Books and Films You May Have Missed

By Matt Witt



The City in Which I Love You

By Li-Young Lee


Letter to the Editor    


We Believe that We Can Win!

“On the Contrary”


Did the Sanders Campaign Represent a Missed Opportunity for the U.S. Labor Movement?: A Debate


As our readers know, the labor movement was divided during the Democratic Party primary season over whether to support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.  We invited contributions from both sides to debate those differences.  Larry Cohen, past president of the Communications Workers of America argued on behalf of the Sanders option, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, together with Leo Casey, president of the Albert Shanker Institute, argued on behalf of the Clinton nomination.  They delivered their initial arguments in early September and then responded to each other.  Both authors assumed, as many readers also did, a Clinton victory.  When the election results came in, Randi Weingarten and Leo Casey asked to rewrite their essay in order to take fuller account of the outcome of the election.  Larry Cohen agreed to this arrangement.  However, he elected to leave his essay as originally written.  He has added a brief addendum that also takes account of the election results. Since Weingarten and Casey withdrew their original contribution, it no longer made sense to publish the replies each had written in response to each other.  Readers should keep in mind that the main part of Cohen’s contribution was written without knowing how the election would turn out, while the Weingarten and Casey essay was written after that outcome had been decided. 


When Bernie Sanders began his quest for the presidency in May 2015 in Burlington, Vermont the democratic political establishment either ignored or opposed him.  Hillary Clinton had been running for years and had hundreds of staff and commitments from hundreds of super delegates. Labor leaders were used to being part of that establishment as well.  Although clearly quite different from the Republican Party establishment, labor leaders regularly mingle with Democratic Party leaders and big-money party funders.

“Bernie can’t win,” they repeated to each other over and over. But actually when they said Bernie can’t win, what they really meant was that working-class people can’t win. Sadly, in 2015 most labor leaders had come to believe the legislative priorities long supported by many unions ̶ like single-payer health care, stopping unfair trade deals, or making public higher education affordable ̶ and couldn’t form the basis for a realistic political program for presidential candidates. Ironically, Bernie Sanders’ campaign moved Hillary Clinton ̶ the establishment candidate who sought to convince primary voters she was more able to win ̶ much closer to those and other positions once considered radical.

Far too many labor leaders have long believed that our political action programs are a defensive tactic, or at best on rare occasions a means to achieve incremental advancement, like the Affordable Care Act. It’s easy to criticize such behavior but it’s not new, and with U.S. collective bargaining coverage down by nearly two-thirds in 40 years to just under 12 percent, it’s not surprising. But for those of us who link that slide to the lack of an aggressive political program challenging the fundamental aspects of our economy, that explanation is not sufficient.

There are disparate strategies within labor. Sectoral differences among building trades, government, industrial, and services lead to important differences in political strategy. For government and education workers, the link to elected officials is obvious. While those elected officials are not supporting political revolution, they are adopting budgets that determine whether and how union members work, and often their pensions and health care as well. For many unions, the distinction between lobbying and collective bargaining is very small. Political fundraising from members by these unions is aimed at influencing these bread-and-butter employment issues not the larger issues confronting working families as a whole.

Before Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy hundreds of the congressional and other super delegates who create the political frame for public sector and other unions had already announced support for Hillary Clinton. Breaking from the party establishment would not have been easy for those public-sector unions particularly at the national level. Additionally, political risk aversion is part of the calculus. In the summer of 2015 there was an overwhelming likelihood that the Supreme Court would eliminate the agency shop in the Friedrichs case. As it turned out only the death of Justice Scalia led to the tie vote in that case that left the agency shop in place for those states that permitted it. Practical politics, even at the presidential level, trumped movement-building, transformational politics.

A similar logic often applies to building trades unions, heavily dependent on government- funded projects. Candidates more likely to win, sometimes Republicans as well as Democrats, often get the nod based on funding commitments for public infrastructure.

And similarly for private sector workers from regulated industries, union political endorsements often hinge on candidates’ records on regulation not on broader concerns. Airline and rail workers with high degrees of unionization often make political calculations based on very specific industry issues.

Many national unions, including auto, steel, bakery, letter carriers, teamsters, and electricians, did not make a presidential endorsement until mid-2016 when the primaries were over or nearly over. As a result, there was not a formal AFL-CIO endorsement until just weeks before the Democratic National Convention.

Several national unions, including Communications Workers of America, National Nurses United, American Postal Workers Union, and Amalgamated Transit Union did endorse Bernie Sanders by the end of 2015. Eventually they were joined by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (West Coast dockworkers), United Electrical Workers, the National Union of Healthcare Workers and more than 100 locals from other national unions that either did not endorse or had already endorsed Hillary Clinton. Tens of thousands of active union members formed a national network, “Labor for Bernie” and worked within their unions and in their communities to support Bernie in their state’s caucus or primary.

In most cases, local unions that supported Sanders did not face retribution from their national union. This level of tolerance for local political autonomy is critical moving forward. It is one thing for a national union, through its executive board, to make an endorsement; it’s quite another thing to demand local adherence without a membership vote or formal local input.

Given all of the above, the remarkable outcome was the outpouring of support for Sanders from active union members. Local leadership combined with the national unions that did endorse Sanders, rather than the disappointment with the public sector, education, building trades, and other unions that were early Clinton endorsers.

This support for Sanders translated into strong union majorities in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and several other states.

Union support was also an important part of the Sanders campaign’s narrative. Fighting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and pointing out the harm continuing from the U.S. trade regime that started with NAFTA was central to the campaign. In Chicago, bakery workers at Nabisco, facing the shutdown of the Oreo cookie line at their south side plant resulting from outsourcing of production to Mexico rallied and held news events weeks before the Illinois primary. In Michigan, workers held a press conference detailing what had happened to their families decade after decade as American Axle & Manufacturing, General Motors and others shut down their plants seeking cheaper labor in Mexico and other nations. As Senator Sanders told it, Flint’s hardships originated with GM shutdowns in what had been their hometown. Lead-contaminated water followed years of skyrocketing unemployment, and declining tax revenues in a city that in the early 1960s had been among America’s richest.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of union support came from United Steel Workers (USW) Local 1999 in Indianapolis. A few months before the Indiana primary, United Technologies (UT) announced that it was moving production of its Carrier furnaces to Monterrey, Mexico after fifty years in Indianapolis. Management held an all-hands-on-deck meeting in the plant breaking the news that it would close in about a year. Local President Chuck Jones decided that it was time to fight back and not wait for negotiations over the consequences of the closing. Chuck and his members decided that the upcoming Indiana primary provided an opportunity to join this issue with the election and ask the presidential candidates for help.

Sanders answered the call and fighting UT became a centerpiece in the Indiana primary. Just days before the primary, Sanders spoke and joined a march through the city protesting the closing, that included USW officials and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Chuck Jones and most Local 1999 members supported Sanders as he attacked our government for awarding billions in U.S. contracts to UT and then doing nothing when the company announced that 2,000 jobs would be going to Mexico solely because of much cheaper labor and virtually no regulation.

We could certainly moan about labor’s lost opportunity, and had the labor movement united behind Sanders he would have been the nominee and very likely the President. However, the real lesson of the last year is our need to build a broader and more powerful movement for change. For years to come, individual labor unions will most likely pursue conflicting political strategies. But those of us who believe that we need a new political movement demanding real change, we have now built the largest movement for that change in decades. It is messy and still uncertain, but the political revolution of Bernie Sanders, now called Our Revolution will forge ahead endorsing candidates and ballot measures, fighting the TPP, and struggling to unite and expand on the 13 million voters who supported Sanders.

No one would claim that Our Revolution, the successor to Bernie 2016, is the only path forward. There are many other attempts to build this movement. We must do a much better job of uniting racial, economic and environmental justice movements. But the question for active union members is more about the future than the past. Do we believe that we can win? Are we ready to build a political movement that works inside and outside the Democratic Party without attacking ourselves? Can we unite around defeating the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other destructive policies and in doing so show that we can win?

We learned from Bernie’s campaign that real change is possible. We learned that many Americans are not afraid to consider themselves workers, and not just middle class. We learned that we can fight for racial justice as well as economic justice and that doing both at the same time makes us stronger. But mostly we learned that it all starts by actually believing and acting like “We Can Win.”




First, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly two million and in any other democracy she would be President elect.  The barriers to a 21st century democracy for our nation range far beyond voting rights and big money in politics.

Second, Obama far out polled Clinton in key working class counties in PA, MI, WI and even small towns in Maine.  Those who look for racism as the key variable in Trump’s win need to look much deeper at voting results rather than projecting simple answers.  The destruction of manufacturing jobs through public policy neglect and bad trade deals is a major factor explaining Clinton’s loss in those states and a major problem for Democrats who ignore it.

Recent leaks of emails from the DNC and the Clinton campaign chair, indicate that the party elite were improperly involved assisting the nomination of Hillary Clinton in every way possible, and that the Super PACs supporting the Clinton campaign were willing to use divisive and even hateful tactics.

Bernie Sanders is now among the most popular electeds in our nation.  His narrative of working class unity and his focus on free higher education, better health care, peace and justice, fair trade not trade for investor profit, and infrastructure aimed at communities of color and other impacted communities is the basis for Our Revolution, the successor to his campaign, as well as other progressive organizations.

So as we go forward, are we willing to organize around our values, including in primary elections, rather than accept the view of the Democratic Party establishment about who can raise money and therefore who can win?  We can’t just speak out about Citizens United and then defer to those who use every opening to dominate nominations with their dollars.

The Democratic Party itself badly needs structural reform if Democrats are to win the support of working class voters.  There needs to be a real priority on registering millions of voters of color and others trapped by our outrageous voter registration procedures while at the same time we need to fight for automatic voter registration as Alaska just adopted in this election.  We also need to be ready to support independent candidates when they represent our values.  We need to use ballot measures to promote democracy as even this year most pro democracy ballot measures won across the nation.

President Trump will immediately have the two openings necessary to control the NLRB, and begin to roll back the last eight years of Board decisions.  Likely anti-collective bargaining legislation in the Congress and the States will put us on defense again.  But this time can we not only resist, but also build a political movement that speaks to our dreams and aspirations, so that we are campaigning for our values as we fight for the future?

Link to Weingarten and Casey article in series 


Why Hillary Clinton Deserved Labor’s Support

“On the Contrary”


Did the Sanders Campaign Represent a Missed Opportunity for the U.S. Labor Movement?: A Debate


As our readers know, the labor movement was divided during the Democratic Party primary season over whether to support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.  We invited contributions from both sides to debate those differences.  Larry Cohen, past president of the Communications Workers of America argued on behalf of the Sanders option, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, together with Leo Casey, president of the Albert Shanker Institute, argued on behalf of the Clinton nomination.  They delivered their initial arguments in early September and then responded to each other.  Both authors assumed, as many readers also did, a Clinton victory.  When the election results came in, Randi Weingarten and Leo Casey asked to rewrite their essay in order to take fuller account of the outcome of the election.  Larry Cohen agreed to this arrangement.  However, he elected to leave his essay as originally written.  He has added a brief addendum that also takes account of the election results. Since Weingarten and Casey withdrew their original contribution, it no longer made sense to publish the replies each had written in response to each other.  Readers should keep in mind that the main part of Cohen’s contribution was written without knowing how the election would turn out, while the Weingarten and Casey essay was written after that outcome had been decided. 


From the earliest days of the Presidential campaign, it was clear that 2016 would not be a typical election year: many voters were feeling cheated out of the “American dream” and deeply angry with the political establishment. The Republican Party was captured by its most illiberal and intolerant forces. In the person of Donald Trump, we will now confront a President who has brought into the mainstream of American politics and government a toxic brew of overt racial, ethnic and religious bigotry, misogyny, authoritarianism, appeals to political violence and attacks on immigrants and unions.

[1]Trump’s election demands a full and searching examination of the causes for this defeat. It is a time for reflection and thoughtful analysis, not recrimination and finger-pointing: we need to inform what will now be a decisive struggle to defend democracy and to regain the initiative for progressive policies that empower working people. In that spirit, we offer the following thoughts on the subject.

The AFT and most of the American labor movement endorsed Hillary for President, both in the Democratic primaries and the general election, as the candidate that we believed had the best chance to win the 2016 election and enact a progressive policy agenda. Against a Republican candidate who sorely lacked the experience, judgment and temperament to be President, Hillary Clinton was the most experienced and qualified candidate of the last century, and her election as the first woman President would have been an historic advance for the cause of gender equality. She brought a lifetime of successful work on behalf of progressive causes to the campaign, and under her leadership and in partnership with Bernie Sanders and his campaign, the Democratic Party adopted the most progressive platform of its history in 2016.  Clinton had a particular knack for translating ideas and aspirations for change into government policies that make a difference.

What went wrong?

When a candidate loses the way Clinton did, by razor thin margins in a number of battleground states, one can point to a number of factors each one of which made the difference between victory and defeat. Most important were the anti-democratic features of the American political system. As we write in the week immediately following the election, the tally has Clinton winning the popular ballot by as much two million votes. It is only the archaic Electoral College that has translated that unambiguous margin into a defeat: in every other democratic polity, she would be the victor. Moreover, voter suppression laws in Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin clearly made the difference in those key battleground states, tipping the Electoral College to the Republicans. And while the total Democratic vote for the House of Representatives is currently ahead of the Republican vote, gerrymandering has delivered a 40+ seat Republican majority in that Congressional body.

The 2016 election also witnessed the unprecedented interventions of the FBI and the Russian state, to the benefit of Trump. The baseless letter from FBI Director Comey, raising doubts about Clinton’s e-mails that the agency had in fact already reviewed and cleared, reversed her momentum late in the campaign. (Trump confidante and former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has acknowledged the decisive impact of Comey’s letter.[2]) The emails of Clinton campaign and DNC staff hacked by intelligence agencies of the Russian state and released at critical times and in coordination with the Trump campaign through WikiLeaks also took a toll. Both developments made the Trump victory possible, and both are deeply troubling for the future of free and fair elections that are the cornerstone of every democracy.

The Clinton campaign, the DNC and those of us in the labor movement could have secured electoral victory with different decisions in a few pivotal areas. The Democratic vote in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin could have been shored up with timely interventions and additional resources, keeping those traditionally ‘blue’ states from turning ‘red’ by the narrowest of margins. While Clinton and the Democratic platform had good policy proposals for addressing economic inequality and fostering good jobs, the campaign never put them together in a compelling message that connected with blue collar workers in ‘rust belt’ states ravaged by corporate dominated economic globalization. Too many of these workers concluded that the Democrats would not bring real change to their lives. Going forward, American labor and the Democratic Party must develop an economic program and highlight class issues that convincingly take on what have been decades of economic losses to working people in the American heartland.

Yet tragically there was more than a class dynamic at work: many white male workers viewed their economic interests through a distorting prism of race and sex. The 2016 election saw a significant backlash vote in which ‘others’ – most prominently, people of color, immigrants, women, LGBTQ people, Muslims and Jews – were scapegoated for the declining economic and social status of white male workers. Trump’s strategy for breaking through the ‘blue wall’ of Democratic states was to appeal to the racial, sexual and religious fears and resentments of white voters, and he was sufficiently successful at this gambit to win a close election. His overt racism, misogyny and bigotry has done real damage to America’s struggle to overcome these evils, and left many Americans deeply fearful for their place in our society. In the dark times ahead, the American labor must hold true to our core values, continuing both the battle for the economic interests of all working people and the struggle against racial, sexual and religious oppression.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, there were those who argued that it was more important for American unions to advance a broad vision of economic justice and long term, maximalist goals than to focus on winning this election. In this view, a Trump victory was an acceptable price to be paid if it results in a future greater good. Some even contended, against all historical precedent, that a Trump victory would hasten that greater good. Unfortunately, we will now witness the damage that a Trump victory holds for the labor movement’s quest for economic justice and for the social democratic policies it advocates.

In 2016, abstentions and votes for the Greens and Libertarians were votes lost to a repudiation of Trumpism, and they made the difference in key battleground states such as Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. We will pay a heavy price for the sectarian politics that trained its fire on the Democratic Party and liberalism, viewing the 2016 ballot as an expressive ‘protest’ vote of moral purity. Michael Harrington nailed it: labor needs a political strategy that fashions itself as the “left wing of the possible.” While our political vision must be bold and far-seeing, it cannot be divorced from what is achievable in the here and now.

Others have argued that if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, Trump would have been defeated. In their view, the Bernie Sanders campaign was a “lost opportunity” for the American labor movement, and the great preponderance of American unions that endorsed Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination could have better promoted a labor agenda and victory in November by endorsing Sanders.

Without question, the Sanders campaign’s spotlight on economic inequality and the corrosive, anti-democratic effect of unlimited money in our political system was a valuable contribution to our national political discourse. This focus was particularly important in the campaign’s successful engagement of millennials in the political process. The integration of the Sanders message into the Democratic Party platform was important, and made the Democratic campaign better. In this regard, the Sanders campaign accomplished what was its original raison d’être.

Yet the notion that Sanders could have won the Democratic nomination and gone on to victory in the general election, if only he had been endorsed by labor, does not stand up to close scrutiny. Without relitigating the campaign, it must be noted that Hillary Clinton won far more votes and elected delegates. Throughout the primary season, the Sanders campaign demonstrated weaknesses as well as strengths: his support was strongest in states which were less diverse and more rural, and in states which employed caucuses, where intensity of sentiment carries more weight than a broad popular base. His backing in the African-American and Latino communities was weak.

While Sanders’ supporters have pointed to his favorable ratings in opinion polls as evidence that his campaign could have been victorious in November, he had never gone through the gauntlet of the right wing attack machine. Instead from the start of the 2016 campaign, unrelenting fire from those quarters was concentrated on Clinton as the likely Democratic nominee, following on decades of attacks which had taken a real toll on her popularity. (It should also be noted that many of those attacks were misogynist in character.) If Sanders had won the nomination, he would have faced an onslaught of similar assaults, as Kurt Eichenwald and Will Saletan have shown.[3] As unfair as these attacks would have been, Sanders would have been savaged over such issues as his past praise for Fidel Castro, the Cuban Communist regime and the Sandinistas, and his 1960s era publications that celebrated youth sexuality, warned of the dangers of fluoridated water and speculated on social conformity as the cause of cancer. Republicans had prepared a two-inch think ‘opposition’ dossier that included plans for using a decades old piece of fiction Sanders wrote to accuse him of being an apologist for rape. That these issues were irrelevant to the great questions of the direction of the nation would have mattered not a whit, any more than it did in the manufactured controversies over Benghazi and Clinton’s health or the overblown tempest over her emails. From the ‘swiftboating’ of John Kerry’s record as a war hero to the ‘birther’ attacks on Barack Obama’s legitimacy as the first African-American president, such attacks have become a mainstay of right wing politics. They must figure in our political calculations.

None of us have a crystal ball that can predict with certainty how Sanders would have fared in the November election, had he won the nomination. But is seems to us that a Sanders defeat on the order of the 1972 McGovern campaign was more likely than a Sanders victory. In our youth we both worked for McGovern, as part of a passionate student movement that shared much with the millennial support for Sanders. A landslide defeat on the scale of 1972 would have dissipated the progressive energy of the Sanders campaign, much as it did to the McGovern movement. Instead the Sanders campaign ended on a high note, and is now positioned to play an important role in shaping Democratic Party politics going forward.

American unions will face difficult challenges over the next four years. The stakes will be high, as American democracy itself has come under attack. It will be important to learn from our setbacks in the 2016 election as we confront Trumpism. We must articulate a powerful message which targets both economic inequality and the politics of hate and bigotry. Our program must combine the creation of well-paying jobs, access to economic advancement through a robust system of public education, a defense of democratic institutions and norms and a respect for the dignity and rights of all Americans.

Trump enters office with unprecedented high disapproval ratings and without the mandate of a popular vote victory: there is good reason to believe that a revitalized and reinvigorated progressive movement, with American labor at its core, will defeat Trumpism with the right message. We remain optimistic about the long term political prospects of American labor and a progressive policy agenda on behalf of working people.


Link to Larry Cohen’s original submission for On the Contrary




[2] Grace Guarnieri, “Corey Lewandowski says Donald Trump should thank FBI Director James Comey” in Salon available at

[3] Kurt Eichenwald, “The Myths Democrats Swallowed That Cost Them the Presidential Election” in Newsweek available at and Will Saletan, “Polls Say Bernie Is More Electable Than Hillary. Don’t Believe Them.” in Slate available at