“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows that the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight is fixed
The poor stay poor and the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
-Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows
5/25/19, Cabot, Vermont -In 2017 they told us, “we can’t do right by working Vermonters because we don’t have the votes to override the Governor’s veto.” Then we gave them enough votes to do just that… And on Friday the Vermont Speaker of the House sought to adjourn without achieving a livable wage. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Vermonters continue to labor 40-60 hours a week at poverty wages (many thousands without healthcare). And throughout the five months during which the General Assembly was in session, they could not even be bothered to hold one single hearing on card check (S.36). But this should not come as a surprise…
The rolling disappointments suffered under the leadership Vermont’s dominate political party goes back many years; approaching a generation. Recall that it was the same party in power which, during the height of the Iraq War, failed to pass a binding motion calling for the impeachment of George W Bush (which according to the Jefferson Manual would have forced impeachment procedures in Washington DC – the General Assembly in their wisdom instead passed a meaningless symbolic resolution which intentionally achieved nothing). Recall that it was this same Party which controlled the House, Senate, and Governorship who slammed the door shut on single payer healthcare (even after campaigning and winning in three election cycles on this very issue). And now do not act shocked when they have yet again demonstrate their lack of will when it comes to guaranteeing that working class Vermonters be paid a basic dignified income.
After so many failures, after so many election cycles when expectations are raised only to suffer betrayal when the power to make real change is actually in hand, why would a rational person continue to believe a different outcome was possible? How could a rational person assert that the ruling Party is willing, let alone capable of making meaningful change? At what point is one compelled to dismiss the myth that this Party is actually interested in said change?
This is not to say that there aren’t champions of Vermont’s working class in the ruling Party; there are (persons like Emily Kornheiser, Johannah Donovan, Kevin ‘Coach’ Christie, & Mari Cordes to name but four). But there are not enough of them. In fact they constitute a small minority (and always have).
The truth is this Party is not a Party of the working class. As an institution they persistently are pulled towards the unimaginative status quo; and as such their uneasiness with meaningful change plays into the interests of the entrenched elite (those who do not suffer poverty wages, unaffordable healthcare, the crush of regressive taxation, etc.). They will continue to tell us that they ‘just need a few more seats’, or ‘a Governor from their Party’ to move a people’s agenda, but like when they said they just needed a ‘veto proof majority’ (or when they told us Peter Shumlin would ‘get tough things done’), the rational working class Vermonter should be weary of the continually moving goal posts.
And the official opposition? Let us be clear… The Vermont Republican Party is not our friend. Unlike the ruling Party they do not even bother with the campaign rhetoric which seeks to make us believe. If in the majority they would not be content with the status quo. Rather they would roll back social programs, cut taxes for the wealthy (not us), eliminate public sector jobs, and advance a roll back of our core Union rights. It is no mistake that the VT GOP has invited the extremist Union-buster, Scott Walker to a Party function in Burlington next week… And it is no mistake that our Governor has ignored AFSCME’s demand that he not amplify the voice of this extremist by attending this despicable event. No my friends, the official opposition is not with us; not at all…
Who is consistently with us? The Vermont Progressive Party has been a reliable ally. They have supported a real livable wage and full paid FMLA. They have supported card check, and they have not been afraid to stake out pro-Labor positions even when they run counter to the powerful who own the factories, the construction outfits, and the businesses. They have been our friends. But they are too few…
So what is to be done?
The Vermont AFL-CIO has been too forgiving for too long. Unless there is a rapid change in Montpelier, come 2020 Labor should take a big step back from the Party that has done too little too late for working people. At minimum, Labor should only consider endorsing candidates who sign a pledge stating their unequivocal support for:
- Livable Wage of $15 an hour + inflation by 2022;
- Universal single payer healthcare by 2022;
- 12 weeks of FULL paid family medical leave by 2022;
- Free in-state college and technical education by 2022;
- Guaranteed affordable (dignified) housing for all by 2026;
- No new regressive taxes;
- Increased funding for existing social programs through a new extreme wealth tax;
- Card check Union recognition process;
- Implementation of a binding, Town Meeting based statewide referendum system by 2026 (therefore giving the people a means to override the legislature and to advance our own agenda without them).
If a candidate cannot commit to those economic, social, and democratic priorities, Labor should have no part of them.
But even here, what is preventing a candidate from signing such a pledge and then finding an excuse to betray that too once they win an election? After all, Peter Shumlin was elected Governor to implement single payer, right? -This is a legitimate concern; one that cannot be shrugged off.
Perhaps instead Labor should call for a moratorium on endorsing any candidate who is affiliated with any Party who has not demonstrated a consistent & reliable solidarity with Unions & working Vermonters (a bar which the current ruling Party clearly does not presently rise to). Undoubtedly this approach would cause a backlash from some of the (few) Labor champions within said Party. But perhaps such an act would give those champions a consequence for them to point to when they are internally arguing for a meaningful shift to the working class left within their Party structure. And for too long Labor has not delivered consequences… And here, Labor could instead choose to actively center itself within the Progressive Party (or a new Party of our own making).
But then again, the tree from which the political fruit falls may be poisoned at the root. For while we can see that the General Assembly lacks the will to implement the change we demand, we know that we ourselves are capable of winning that which the lawmakers fail to grant. As Union members we have generally already won livable wages, acceptable levels of paid leave, affordable healthcare, and democratic say in the conditions within which we labor. We have done this through organizing, collective bargaining, solidarity, workplace actions, and strikes. We have done this on our own, with, by, and for our members and without the fork-tongued interventions of status quo politicians. So perhaps our time is best spent Unionizing new shops and new industries (and internally organizing our existing members toward increased engagement on economic and social issues). In whole or in part, this is our path to the social and economic power that the majority requires. And as we expand that rights and economic gains we have already won to workers who are yet to be Unionized, our power will grow and we can then contemplate further social and economic goals which we can turn our collective attention towards.
One thing is certain… Between now and the 2020 general election, Labor needs to engage in an intense internal debate regarding the future of our political engagement. Here many options should be looked at. And this debate cannot be limited as a pastime between Union Presidents and the top leadership; this must be discussed and debated among the rank & file. Fore as we formulate our platform, our vision, we will need to move forward with a unity of purpose that that only such a deep and far reaching collective process can deliver.
At the end of the day, something must change because…
“Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old black Joe still pickin’ cotton
For ribbons and bows
Everybody knows…” -L. Cohen
David Van Deusen
District Vice President
OUR POWER IS NOT IN MONTPELIER, our power is in our labor, in our shops, in our communities, and in our Unions.
So on Thursday, May 30, at 5:30pm, in Burlington, in front of the Hilton Hotel on Battery Street join Organized Labor and our allies in picketing against Union-busting and for our rights as Union members and supporters. Come and walk the line with us against Scott Walker and those within Vermont who are of his ilk. Let May 30 be the first day in a new unity of action aimed at a more far reaching change. Let us be one united Working Class!