WASHINGTON (PAI) — Citing the senator’s long and unbroken pro-worker record, his determination to raise the issue of income inequality and his opposition to job-losing “free trade” pacts, former Communications Workers President Larry Cohen endorsed and will campaign for Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Cohen’s announcement, in a column in the Huffington Post, comes just after the AFL-CIO warned two of its state federations, in North Carolina and Vermont, not to “jump the gun” and endorse candidates early in the presidential race. Its reminder also applies to unions.
But since the often-outspoken tell-it-like-it-is Cohen stepped down as CWA president in June after a decade on the job, he’s not bound by the federation’s strictures.
Cohen’s endorsement is important because of his reputation as an organizer and mobilizer. As union president, he created the Democracy Alliance, which now includes 52 groups with tens of millions of members combined. The alliance is pushing to restore U.S. democracy, starting with successful pressure to change Senate rules to curb filibusters.
But it also is campaigning for a constitutional amendment to end the baleful domination of unrestricted corporate and big-donor money in politics, for strong labor laws, for comprehensive immigration reform and to expand voting rights. Sanders enthusiastically advocates all of those causes and is the lead Senate sponsor of the constitutional amendment.
And Sanders’ campaign, like the alliance, is a grass-roots movement, Cohen says.
“Bernie realizes his campaign is not just about him but also about the populist candidates running for local office, on similar programs, from Waterloo (Iowa) to Manchester (N.H.), Reno (Nevada) to Charleston (S.C.),” Cohen said, citing key cities in the first four states in next year’s presidential primaries and caucuses.
“We need a movement of millions, not simply an election for president funded by billionaires in both parties. This is our chance to build a movement that will not answer to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This is our chance to build for 2016 and beyond,” Cohen adds.
Cohen said Sanders “has been there with us every time” in fights for environmental justice, fairness, voting rights, immigration reform and especially getting big money out of politics. And he reminded unionists that Sanders walked a picket line with CWA members and Electrical Workers when Fairpoint Communications, a telecom, forced them to strike for four months in the middle of a frigid New England winter.
“Bernie realizes that workers’ rights in the U.S. remain under attack and near the bottom of the world’s democracies,” Cohen said.
“Most recently Bernie was a key Senate voice against fast-tracking secret trade deals that are likely to cost us millions of jobs and depress our wages. Bernie realized these deals would elevate corporate profits above environmental and human rights and make it harder for U.S.-based small businesses to compete.
“This is an especially critical issue, since the president controls trade negotiations by appointing and working with the U.S. Trade Representative. Other Democratic candidates will talk eloquently about all kinds of issues, but trade and foreign policy are initiated by the president, and we must hold candidates responsible for what they said and did in recent months when it mattered,” Cohen said.
Though Cohen did not say so, the leading Democrat in the polls, Hillary Clinton, has been lukewarm about opposing the secret trade deals and the fast-track congressional process that permits them. And as President Obama’s Secretary of State, she was part of an administration that pushed fast-track and the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Besides Sanders, only former Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md., unequivocally opposed fast-track. Former Gov. and Sen. Lincoln Chafee, D-R.I., has yet to discuss it. Former Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said he would consider supporting fast-track under certain conditions.
Photo: Teresa Albano/PW