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NLF Highlights - Current Topics in Labor
Published by the Murphy Institute, CUNY
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New Labor Forum Highlights: Nov. 28th, 2016 

Many of us continue to scratch our heads about a Trump electoral victory that only weeks ago seemed pretty improbable. While we anxiously gaze ahead at the likely domestic and international ramifications of a Trump presidency, we also look back in an effort to understand how it came to this. The Democratic Party primaries, of course, hold some clues. The labor movement was divided during the primary season over whether to support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. In the forthcoming January issue of New Labor Forum, we invited contributions from both sides to debate those differences. Larry Cohen, past president of the Communications Workers of America argued on behalf of the Sanders option, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, together with Leo Casey, president of the Albert Shanker Institute, argued on behalf of the Clinton nomination. The authors assumed, as many readers also did, a Clinton victory.  When the election results came in, Randi Weingarten and Leo Casey asked to rewrite their essay. Larry Cohen elected to leave his essay as originally written, opting instead to add a brief addendum that also takes account of the election results. We feature that exchange here, as well as 2 articles and a video which all seek to wrestle with what happened and why, particularly as relates to organized labor.


Table of Contents:

  1. We Believe that We Can Win! by Larry Cohen 
  2. Why Hillary Clinton Deserved Labor’s Support by Randi Weingarten and Leo Casey 
  3. Election Debrief: Reporters’ Roundtable (Video)
  4. The Union Revolt by Bob Hennelly
  5. What Unions Got Wrong by Steven Greenhouse 

We Believe that We Can Win!

by Larry Cohen

“Bernie can’t win,” they repeated to each other over and over. But actually when they said Bernie can’t win, what they really meant was that working-class people can’t win.

Sadly, in 2015 most labor leaders had come to believe the legislative priorities long supported by many unions ̶ like single-payer health care, stopping unfair trade deals, or making public higher education affordable ̶ and couldn’t form the basis for a realistic political program for presidential candidates. Ironically, Bernie Sanders’ campaign moved Hillary Clinton ̶ the establishment candidate who sought to convince primary voters she was more able to win ̶ much closer to those and other positions once considered radical.

Read the full article here.

Why Hillary Clinton Deserved Labor’s Support

by Randi Weingarten and Leo Casey

The AFT and most of the American labor movement endorsed Hillary for President, both in the Democratic primaries and the general election, as the candidate that we believed had the best chance to win the 2016 election and enact a progressive policy agenda. Against a Republican candidate who sorely lacked the experience, judgment and temperament to be President, Hillary Clinton was the most experienced and qualified candidate of the last century, and her election as the first woman President would have been an historic advance for the cause of gender equality. She brought a lifetime of successful work on behalf of progressive causes to the campaign, and under her leadership and in partnership with Bernie Sanders and his campaign, the Democratic Party adopted the most progressive platform of its history in 2016.  Clinton had a particular knack for translating ideas and aspirations for change into government policies that make a difference.

Read the full article here.

Election Debrief: Reporters’ Roundtable (Video)


A discussion between Laura Flanders, Jamilah King, Harold Meyerson, and Julio Ricardo Varela.

To what degree is the election outcome largely a result of an anxious and enraged white working class, sections of which either endorse the Trump campaign’s virulent racism or are willing to overlook it in favor of his tough talk on free trade and a rigged political system? How should labor and progressive activists understand and respond to the racism the campaign both fueled and exposed? What did the 2016 election tell us about the wisdom and viability of the Obama coalition, which depends on demographic changes presumed to be advantageous, rather than on birthing a multi-racial working-class? What was the nature and extent of organized labor’s impact on the election, particularly in the rust belt?

Watch the full video here.

The Union Revolt No One Is Talking About

by Bob Hennelly

Donald Trump’s election victory has sent the Democratic Party into a circular firing squad of recrimination. But the folks that should really be worried are the leaders of organized labor who opted to back Hillary Clinton, the “sure thing,” over the right thing, Bernie Sanders. This decision by the union leadership was in the face of consistent polling throughout the primary season that showed Sanders holding a commanding lead over Trump in head-to-head matchups.

Read the full article here.

What Unions Got Wrong
by Steven Greenhouse


For the nation’s labor unions, the day after Election Day was going to be a victory lap. They planned to boast to the world that their vaunted get-out-the-vote operation had delivered the White House to Hillary Clinton by winning three crucial Rust Belt states for her: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But the unions, to their shock and horror, failed to deliver those states — or victory — to Mrs. Clinton.


Read the full article here.

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