Labor unions, the Vermont Workers’ Center, and Senator Bernie Sanders held a Labor Day rally at Battery Park in Burlington, Vermont. There were about a hundred people gathered and many good activists gave speeches about their labor struggles. UVM faculty and Fair Point cable workers are both in contract battles. There were also speakers representing UVM students, the victorious Teamster bus drivers, Migrant Justice, and others. The final speech was Bernie Sanders. He talked about wealth inequality, unemployment, health care reform, and the climate. Despite some fiery rhetoric about class war, his analysis wasn’t different from the Democratic Party line. He blamed the greedy Koch brothers and the Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision. No mention of the raging wars or the military industrial complex. So afterwards I was able to approach him and shake his hand. I said, “My name is Matthew Andrews. I am the Liberty Union Party candidate for Congress. I agree with much of what you said, but I wish you had mentioned the military industrial complex and the slaughter in Gaza.” His response was that he had to make a short speech, but his position is on his website. I pushed him to include just one sentence next time – “it’s important if we’re going to build a peace movement. It needs to be talked about.” But he got defensive and said he didn’t want to argue about it. It’s a shame that Bernie can decry the power of money in politics yet not come clean with his constituents about why he supports wars and war spending.
I spoke to both friends and new people in the crowd. Many were well aware of the limits of Bernie Sanders. Some agreed that we need an independent political party for working people, but were also very skeptical of entering electoral politics in any way. The magnetic pull of opportunism upon a candidate who tastes any success is so powerful, it’s hard to imagine things any other way. Building strong mass movements is definitely a starting point we could all agree on. I also spoke with folks from the Vermont Workers Center. They say they are non-partisan, which is great. I assume this means they will be equally enthusiastic about hosting a labor rally with someone from Liberty Union as the keynote speaker?
I met a woman who said she was a former elementary school teacher who was fired. She said the principal threatened her and the union if she brought her case to arbitration and her union caved to the pressure. The other teachers were afraid of being fired. The union reps were busy planning their work around their vacations. Because she was in a union, she couldn’t hire a lawyer to litigate her termination. After paying union dues for 26 years she was forced into early retirement and lost her home. Stories like this are the inconvenient truth behind a weak labor movement that we rarely hear progressives or liberals talk about. Unions accept a huge responsibility when they become the sole bargaining agent of workers. When they fail in their duty to organize and fight, it should be obvious why working people withdraw their support. I gave my highest regards to this brave woman who came out for a Labor Day rally despite the failure of her particular union in her personal case.
Rallies are a great opportunity to demonstrate our size and unity but we need a revolutionary union and a workers’ political party to help us think through the challenges that lie ahead and convert our numbers into political muscle that will hold our supposed leaders accountable in both the workplace and Congress.