There is no question that the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign has changed American politics. Just how radical that change will be is still being contested. Now that the Sanders campaign is nearing its end, organized labor, a major component of the Sanders coalition, will need to take stock of the forces mobilized throughout the campaign and figure out what to do next.
From the beginning of the campaign, it didn’t take long for working-class supporters of Sanders to make their presence felt. They could be spotted before the first state had caucused.
“I went to Iowa five times. I focused on the Quad Cities by the Mississippi; these were manufacturing cities. The level of support there was almost universal,” says Larry Cohen, former president of the Communication Workers of America and now part of the Sanders campaign.
While Sanders got plenty of attention for his appearance on Verizon picket lines during the recent strike there, Cohen points out that as far back as September 2015, Sanders visited striking workers at Penford Products while campaigning in Grand Rapids, Iowa. While Sanders has long had support from labor, emphasizing these links has been important at a time when the labor movement seeks to rebuild itself after decades of decline. Some trade unionists even joke that America may have organized labor, but it does not have a labor movement. The Sanders campaign is presenting an opportunity to change that, though that path is not a straight line.