In a new interview with Vanity Fair, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) warned Democrats that they need to start publicly supporting surging labor movements or else face defeat in the midterm elections this fall.
Since the unceremonious death of the Build Back Better Act last year, the Democratic party has been in dire need of messaging, and needs to embrace a strong pro-union platform if they want to boost their chances of retaining power in Congress, Sanders told the magazine before heading to rallies in support of unionizing Amazon workers in New York and Starbucks workers in Virginia.
Democrats have to decide if they’re going to “become a party which stands for the working class of this country” or if they’ll “remain a corporately controlled party beholden to [their] wealthy campaign contributors and to the corporate media as well,” Sanders said.
To choose the latter is to risk losing big in this year’s elections. “To turn your back on the working class, in general, is political suicide,” he said. Becoming “strongly involved in the labor movement” is, on the other hand, “the right thing to do,” he added. “It is also very, very good politics. And I think if the Democrats don’t do that immediately, they are going to look at a very, very bad 2022.”
Sanders has been a staunch supporter of the labor movement, which is experiencing a renaissance led largely by young organizers and grassroots activists. For his part, he’s created a unit within his office of about 10 staffers focused on supporting unionizing workers not only within headline-grabbing campaigns, but also in places like John Deere, Kellogg’s and universities across the country.
Sanders has also been pushing Democrats to take more action to support labor movements. Recently, he called for President Joe Biden to invite Starbucks and Amazon labor organizers to the White House, and to cancel Amazon’s federal contracts and refuse to work with the company until it stops union busting.
Though Biden has pledged to be the most pro-union president in American history, he and the party, which holds a majority in both chambers of Congress, have so far fallen short of labor organizers’ expectations of the supposedly pro-union party. For instance, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a sweeping bill that would make it far easier for workers to form unions in the country, has sat dormant in Congress for over a year after the House passed the bill last March.
The president of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), which recently made waves for successfully unionizing the first Amazon warehouse in the country, told Vanity Fair that Congress can and should take action on the issue. “They have to pass the PRO Act,” said ALU President Christian Smalls. “If they’re not going to pass the PRO Act, Biden needs to sign an executive order. Simple as that.”
Sanders had worked for provisions of the PRO Act to be included in the Build Back Better Act, which could have bypassed the filibuster, but the bill was gutted and killed by conservative Democrats in the Senate. In his interview, he also expressed frustration about how the Democratic Party handled those major obstructionists within their ranks — chiefly Senators Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona).
The Vermont senator blamed Manchin and Sinema for dragging the party behind, but also said that Democrats need to shape up in their response to them.
“How you handle Manchin, how you handle Sinema and the other conservative Democrats is one of the challenges that the Democrats have got to deal with,” he said. “But the current strategy is an absolute political failure.”
Sanders also had harsh words for Amazon chairman Jeff Bezos. If the senator were given a chance to talk to Bezos directly, “There’s nothing that I would say to him except, ‘You know what? We’re gonna take you on,’” he said. “You could either start responding to the needs of your workers, or we’re gonna fight you ruthlessly.”