“This is not an easy time to be an educator or a trade unionist,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told AFT delegates at the convention Sunday morning, but "if we stand up and fight back, if we educate and organize, if we show the courage and unity that this moment in history requires, I have no doubt that we are going to win and bring a beautiful future to our country.”
Sanders took a moment to thank AFT members for doing some of the most important work in America. He also gave a shoutout to the nurse members of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, who recently held a two-day strike for improved staffing and wages at the University of Vermont Medical Center. He told delegates that the nurses have the support of the entire community in Burlington.
“What I’m going to tell you contains some bad news and good news,” said Sanders. But in the end, “the good news trumps the bad news.”
Sanders noted that, economically, despite relatively low unemployment, real wages are declining, but the wealthiest people have never had it better. And while President Trump’s economic policies are bad, his social policies are even worse, said Sanders. “He has attempted to divide the American people and bring back discrimination to this country. But we are not going back, we are going forward.”
Sanders predicted that voters would make Donald Trump a one-term president, adding that the 2018 midterm elections would end one-party government rule in Washington. He also called out the Supreme Court for doing the bidding of the wealthy and powerful, noting that its decisions have undermined healthcare, voting rights and now unions.
“Sometimes decisions and actions have unintended consequences,” he said. “I have the feeling that those who thought that the Janus decision would hurt the union movement may be in for a big surprise. It may be one of those decisions that will help us rebuild the trade union movement in America.”
The good news is that, “all over this country, people are standing up and fighting for a progressive agenda,” said Sanders. “There is a political revolution sweeping across this country.”
Ideas once considered fringe or radical—like healthcare as a right through Medicare for All, and tuition-free college—are now mainstream ideas accepted by the vast majority of Americans, and we are seeing candidates running off of those ideas and winning elections.
“Our job now is to think big. It is to understand that, when we reach with a progressive agenda that speaks to the needs of working families, we can get people to run for office, increase voter turnout and take on the oligarchy that now controls this country.”
Lamb: It’s up to us in November
Although his congressional district in Pennsylvania was drawn to favor Republican candidates, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) won the seat up for grabs in a special election last year. And he did it by talking to everyone. “Our campaign went everywhere. But it was the members of organized labor who carried us,” Lamb told delegates.
Now that Lamb is in office, he is hearing a lot of the same things about the Democratic Party that he heard when he was running. “They say there is a civil war in the party—that our party stands for nothing—but they are wrong. As Democrats, we represent the majority of Americans on every issue of importance, said Lamb.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wants to cut programs like Social Security and Medicare to pay for a tax program that does nothing for those who serve, said Lamb. Democrats want to defend Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; improve the Affordable Care Act; increase the minimum wage; support public education and unions, said Lamb. “The ideas we are running on are practical and proven. There is a lot of hard work ahead, but no matter what happens in November, it’s up to us."
Bryce: I had to say yes
“It may sound crazy, but running for Congress was not on my bucket list,” Randy Bryce told delegates. Bryce, who is also known as the “Iron Stache,” is a candidate for Congress in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, the district represented by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Bryce is a U.S. Army veteran, cancer survivor and a member of Ironworkers Local 8. After leaving the Army, Bryce worked two full-time jobs but didn’t have health insurance. “When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had no way to cover the costs.”
Bryce survived the disease, but the financial burden was insurmountable, and it took him many years to get back on track. Bryce says his career as an ironworker provided his family with an entry into the middle class. “Sadly, too many of these good-paying union jobs are being outsourced, and it’s happening right here at home and all across the country. That’s why I keep fighting for all of us.”
Bryce was an active member in his local and helped organize the resistance to Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, which worked to destroy teachers unions and other public sector unions in the state. That loss led Bryce to realize he had to do more.
“There was a lot of talk about doing something to make a change because we weren’t being represented in Wisconsin or in Washington, and Ryan has been one of the worst offenders. So when I was asked if I would consider throwing my hat in the ring against Ryan, I knew had to say yes,” said Bryce. “I believe now that we need a working person standing up for other working people. I am not a lifelong politician, but all of my stances on issues come from talking to working families just like mine, about what they need. That’s why I am here.”
[Adrienne Coles; photos by ]