Historic first for AFT locals
When Senator Bernie Sanders planned his 2020 presidential campaign, he chose Brooklyn College (BC) as the place to hold a rally on March 2, 2019, to kick off his run. This wasn’t just because he’s a native Brooklynite or because he spent a year as an undergraduate at BC, but because it signaled that his vision for a robust social democracy rests on working-class, public institutions like CUNY.
The PSC took notice.
On March 19, during a digital PSC Delegate Assembly (due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic), PSC delegates overwhelmingly approved a resolution to endorse Sanders. While the state effectively canceled the primary due to the pandemic, the union’s endorsement of Sanders, which the senator tweeted out to millions of followers, was still historic.
While Sanders dropped out of the race in April, the PSC’s presidential primary endorsement signified why Sanders’s platform was so historic.
“His political platform was clearly most fully aligned with the social justice policies our union works to achieve,” said Carly Smith, the PSC vice president for part-time personnel. “Of all the candidates, his plan for public higher-ed funding would most substantially benefit CUNY workers and students, and he is the only candidate who has built a grassroots social movement powered by young, working-class people of color. A strong social justice union like ours should be proud in this historic moment to put full, unequivocal support behind a democratic socialist candidate whose policies remain broadly popular and remain the way forward to defeating this fascist administration.”
The endorsement came after vibrant debate among the members. The PSC will support the Democratic Party nominee, and the union respects all members’ views, PSC President Barbara Bowen said.
The endorsement was historic for both the PSC and its national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The AFT endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden. Local AFT affiliates such as unions representing K-12 teachers in Los Angeles and Boston also made independent endorsements this year. Earlier, this semester, the PSC’s Executive Council had recommended to the DA a joint endorsement of both Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren, as they represented the progressive flank of the primary candidates. By the time the resolution reached the DA – after a lot of debate by rank-and-file members about a presidential endorsement – Warren had suspended her campaign.
The PSC made clear that the Sanders endorsement had significance even after he dropped out. As Sanders’s rallying cry has been “not me, us,” PSC members said that support for Sanders should be read as a long-term commitment to rebuilding working-class politics and universal policies like Medicare for All and tuition-free college, regardless of who the next president is. The current global health crisis, the Executive Council said, underscored the need for Sanders’s policies.
Luke Elliott-Negri, the PSC chapter chair at the Graduate Center and an Executive Council member, said, “Across the country and right here in New York City, funding for public higher education has been shrinking for decades. Bernie Sanders had the strongest higher-ed platform and he is willing to fight for it. And, not for nothing, the current political and economic systems have pushed human life to the edge of viability. Even Bernie’s proposals were just the beginning of the transformation we’ll need to undergo as a society and a planet if we don’t want our species engulfed by seas or fires.”
“The current pandemic,” the Executive Council wrote in a recent message, “exposes the inhumane contradictions of our society, where children’s nutritional needs are conditional on being able to attend school, and people cannot stop working because they don’t have sick leave.”
“A nation where millions have no health insurance and even more are struggling with medical bills is now scrambling to respond to an unprecedented heath crisis. Sanders’s platform on health care, on economic inequality, on union protections, on climate change and on a billionaires’ tax have acquired even greater urgency now.”