UNITE HERE Local 23 members arrive in Atlanta for a “Georgia Canvass Celebration” rally, Dec. 9, 2020. Photo: UNITE HERE Local 23
By Peter Olney and Rand Wilson
There is no rest for the weary. The 2020 election triumph in the battleground states and the historic victory in the Georgia Senate races is fast becoming a fleeting memory. With the disappointing, but expected, results of the Senate impeachment trial, the public focus shifts to the Biden agenda for the pandemic and economic justice. If politics is the “art of the possible,” this is a tough moment for the dreams and aspirations of so many of us.
Lulled by media incantations about an expected Blue Wave, many progressives yearned for the legislative possibility that with a strong push from the left, the Biden administration would champion and pass the Green New Deal (GND), Medicare for All (M4A) and the Protect Our Right to Organize Act (PRO Act). Instead, all three initiatives are substantially dead on arrival in this Congress. Even if Biden championed these landmark bills, there are not the votes in Congress to send them to his desk for signature. The PRO Act, which he has pledged to support, passed the House in 2019 with 218 votes including two Republicans. These were “free” or easy votes because corporate lobbyists knew that the law had no chance to pass in the Senate or to be signed by #45. Neither the GND nor M4A had enough support in the last Congress to even get to a vote in the House.
So we should continue celebrating our efforts in battleground states, and we should salute the grassroots efforts (especially by people of color) in Georgia. But it’s not too soon to start planning for the 2022 Congressional midterm elections. Should Peter be renting a beachside cottage in Orange County to work on flipping two House seats that Democrats won in 2018 but lost to Republicans in 2020? Should Rand be plotting to help defend a potentially endangered New Hampshire House seat?
The incumbent President’s party historically takes a shellacking in the midterms. One exception was in 1934 when FDR’s Democratic Party triumphed with Congressional gains two years into his first term, which enabled passage of the most progressive New Deal legislation.
However, the 2020 election results in both the House and Senate do not bode well – in fact, increasing the Democrats’ margin looks near impossible! What could the Biden administration and the Congress, barely controlled by Democrats, do now to give us any hope of defying history?
Better not leave it to the liberals! We’ve got to go all out to pressure Biden and Congress to give us enough good stuff to fire up working-class families to once again believe in “change” and restore “hope” for what could be achieved with bigger margins in the House and Senate. Some near-term achievable goals are:
- Fully-funded stimulus package (through budget reconciliation)
- Cancellation of $50,000 in student loans (executive order)
- $1.4 trillion funding for infrastructure (bipartisan support likely)
- $15 minimum wage on a fast track
GOALS WE CAN MEET
The $1.9 trillion stimulus has already passed the House and the Senate. Democrats can proudly run on the passage of this package – even if they fail to raise the Federal minimum wage to $15. Can Republicans afford to campaign against the $1,400 in direct payment per adult and child in a family? $350 billion in aid to state and local governments? $300 per week to enhance unemployment benefits? A child tax credit? $50 billion for vaccine distribution and $200 billion for schools?
Many believe that Biden has the executive authority to unilaterally forgive student debt under the Higher Education Act and have urged him to forgive up to $50,000. Biden has resisted calls for executive action and has claimed that he does not have authority to forgive that amount without Congressional action. He has, however, put a pause on repayment through September 30, 2021. Hopefully another delay after that could extend relief to those burdened by student debt.
On his third day in office in 2017, Trump invited the North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) to the White House. Afterwards, they showered him with praise because they expected he would spend on infrastructure and put thousands of union construction workers to work. Instead they got no infrastructure, and a potentially crippling attack on their apprenticeship programs and their hold on Davis-Bacon prevailing wage construction work.
In contrast, Biden has nominated Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as Secretary of Labor. Walsh comes out of the Laborers Union and was head of the Boston Building Trades while serving as a state representative in Massachusetts. He has fought for affirmative action in hiring and drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants. Walsh strongly appeals to the white working class. If Biden makes good on his $1.4 trillion infrastructure proposal, there is the potential to mobilize hundreds of building trades unionists as “ballot brigadiers” in the 2022 midterms.
The $15 minimum wage is a no-brainer and it polls well across all constituencies. Despite losing the vote on Bernie Sanders’ amendment to add the $15 minimum to the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package (with eight Democrats voting against it), hopefully movement pressure will continue to build, and the raise will come to the floor again. Win or lose, politicians from either party who opposed it should face serious consequences in the midterms.
2022 IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK
November 2022 is less than two years away. In some districts there will be primary challenges from the left. In some open primary districts, as in California, we need to avoid primary challenges that end up with two Republicans on the ballot. Many of the auxiliary GOTV and coalition groups like Swing Left and Seed the Vote are already thinking this way.
But what about labor? Members of IBEW Local 1245 – the giant PGE utility workers local in California and Nevada – were knocking on doors in battleground states. UNITE HERE members mobilizing in several swing states became the symbol of daring and aggressive grassroots organizing that saved the day for the Democrats. SEIU had leaders and a significant number of lost-time members in several swing states. We’ve seen that unions deploying their members to canvass has repeatedly proven to be highly successful. Now that strategy needs to be amplified. Union “ballot brigades” must be recruited and sent wherever needed to reinforce existing labor-backed campaigns so Democrats pick up the needed seats in Congress. With enough vaccine and better management of the pandemic, door-knocking will hopefully be even more feasible.
Some might call it a “carpet bagging“ strategy. Well-funded labor organizations train, and then use, lost time or other financing to send their most motivated leaders and members to swing districts to engage in conversations about the election with other union members and other working families. Member-to-member canvasses are ideally hosted by the union’s local counterpart or the broader labor movement. There is no better way to build alliances with community and particularly communities of color than to be side-by-side wearing our union colors and carrying our banners. “Labor On the March!”
Success on a large scale will require beginning recruitment and planning now. The effervescent mix of union members, youth and people of color of 2020 must be revived in 2022. Failure to do so risks a “Trumpist” revanchment.
PUSH REFORMS, RECRUIT VOLUNTEERS
Our ability to be effective in 2022 depends on our ability to push the Biden administration now to make the necessary economic reforms to give us ammo to convince millions to desert the talons of Republican extremism. Stewart Acuff, retired Organizing Director of the AFL-CIO, put it well in a recent column in The Stansbury Forum:
“If we want to defeat domestic terrorism, hamstring the authoritarian impulse, and strengthen democracy; we must address income inequality and economic injustice….
“This is a real test for Democrats, and they can’t afford to lose. The party must welcome any breaks with the financial elite and corporations that put excessive profits and wealth above the good of the country.
“And such an economic program, if structured correctly, will cut across all American demographics to improve our quality of life and promote the old ephemeral unity so hard to achieve.”
In an extraordinary step, President Biden gave Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama fighting to join a union their biggest support yet. He tweeted a White House video saying workers should be able to make their decision in union elections without pressure from their supervisors or management.
His support was obviously aimed for the Amazon workers voting in an NLRB certification election at a giant distribution center in Bessemer, Alabama. Although Biden did not mention Amazon by name, he referenced “workers in Alabama” facing a “vitally important” vote over the coming weeks. He said unions “lift up workers, both union and non-union, and especially Black and Brown workers.”
It was the strongest support from a sitting president in our lifetimes. Hopefully Biden will repeat it many times between now and November 2022! His doing so will make it easier for us to recruit union members to canvass and convince voters that their votes will actually help create different outcomes.
Let’s start forming the “Union Ballot Brigades” now! Pack your bags, rent the apartments and break in your walking shoes. As Bernie Sanders said, to win “a future you can believe in,” we must defy history in 2022!
This article is being published jointly by Organizing Upgrade and The Stansbury Forum.