October 20, 2019
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – With just 100 days to go before the Iowa Caucus, 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, on Saturday afternoon, moved to solidify his position as the Labor candidate — drawing about 26,000 to Queensbridge Park in Long Island City with a pro-worker agenda that promises to double union membership nationwide during his first term in office.
Sanders supporters who exceeded the park’s 20,000 cap on attendees, packed Vernon Boulevard as chants of “Unions!” “Unions!” “Unions!” reverberated throughout the green space.
By Sunday, the Sanders campaign was reporting that as many as 33,000 people had attended the October 19, Queensbridge Park rally.
“I’m back!” the Vermont senator and Brooklyn native declared before digging into a spirited hour-long oration that addressed income inequality, climate change, criminal justice reform, immigration and more.
“We’re going to make sure that every worker in America has the right to join a union,” Sanders said.
“Millions of workers in this country want to join unions. [But] today, their employers, in illegal ways, are making that impossible. And that is why our labor law opens the door… in our first four years [in office], we’re going to double the number of workers in this country who belong to unions.”
Progressive phenoms Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [D-NY14th] and Queens County District Attorney challenger Tiffany Cabán were both on hand to endorse Sanders’ 2020 presidential run, as were San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, State Senators Jessica Ramos [D-13th District], Julia Salazar [D-18th District], James Sanders, Jr. [D-10th District] and other legislative members of the “New York Squad.”
After hitching their wagons to Hillary Clinton’s disastrous 2016 campaign, many union heads appear to be a little more reticent about surrendering their support to the establishment candidate this time around.
Mayor Yulín Cruz was a Hillary Clinton supporter in 2016, but on Saturday said Sanders “won me over.”
“Bernie is courageous and consistent, and dedicated to changing the lives of each and every one of us,” the San Juan mayor said.
Retired CWA technician and “Labor for Bernie” member Lew Grupper told LaborPress that “Bernie has shifted the terrain to the left,” and labor leaders, indeed, would do well to take note.
“Unions are growing and there’s going to be a strong left current within the unions. If you’re a union leader, you pay attention to where your grassroots is going,” Grupper said.
Many rank and file members, as they watch their union leaders look across the crowded field of presidential challengers and mull their options, continue to play their own political sentiments close to the vest, however.
But not all.
Following Saturday’s massive rally in Queens, the “Building Trades for Bernie Sanders 2020” Facebook group urged members to “work safe and debate hard,” adding, “Now is the time to talk to your coworkers and explain to them why you support Bernie Sanders for president and what would a Bernie administration mean for the union movement and workers overall.”
“I’m speaking to the grassroots, rank and file,” retired Public Employees Federation [PEF] member William Conron told LaborPress — “go with your heart. We’re going to be worked again from the top; they’re going to be for [former Vice-President Joe] Biden or [Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth] Warren, or whoever. But Bernie’s the guy we need. If we’re going to make a significant change; if unions are going to stay together, we need Bernie and this whole movement to help us do that.”
Jake Warner, a 29-year-old attorney from Brooklyn wore a “100 Percent Union Made” t-shirt and talked about Sanders’ two-pronged approach to strengthen the American Labor Movement.
“[Bernie’s] program attacks the labor issue from two sides” Warner said. “Helping unions build up, and then helping workers have a say at their workplaces. Which is co-determination, which is how they do it in Germany — and Germany has much lower wealth inequality because of that — because workers have a literal seat at the [table].”
Former Ohio State Senator and Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner extolled the Vermont senator’s real-world commitment to striking teachers, Verizon workers, Marriott Hotel cleaners, and other trade unionists, while also seeming to take a swipe at Warren’s penchant for appropriating popular Bernie positions.
“There are many copies…but only one candidate who told the billionaires to keep your money,” Turner said. “Bernie’s only special interests are the people of this great nation.”
Among Biden, Warren and Sanders, only Sanders has steadfastly refused to accept any corporate cash to fund his campaign. Warren has equivocated, saying that she is swearing off corporate dollars during the primaries, but not so much during the general election, should she capture the nomination. Biden has long been awash in corporate contributions.
Grupper also praised Sanders, while criticizing Warren, a former Republican Party member, as a Jonny-come-lately to the Labor Movement.
“Bernie helped us win our strike [against Verizon] in 2016, and pissed off the CEO, too” Grupper said. “He was the first [presidential candidate] to unionize his campaign staff. He’s been walking the labor picket lines his entire career, all over the country — Bernie’s not a fair-weather friend to Labor. Elizabeth Warren just discovered Labor.”
Trump supporters who also showed up at Queensbridge Park to catcall Bernie and AOC and wave a large “Trump 2020” banner, demonstrated just how much of a threat Sanders’ popularity poses to the current occupant of the White House.
“The American people want fundamental changes in our national priories,” Sanders said. “They are tired of the one-percent getting richer while they are struggling to put food on the table — that’s why we’re gonna win.”
Conron urged union members to “really take a look at ourselves.”
“I think this is a time where we really have to impose our moral authority and get this country back,” he said. “We have to get people back to work with really good paying union jobs. They’re plenty of good jobs to go around — we just have to stop funding the billionaires, approving these crazy $2 trillion tax cuts, and throwing all this money at the military. We have to bring that [money] back and start spending it on things that the people need. I’m starting to sense that people are starting to get it — and once they do, there’s no turning back.”