Why American unions are backing Biden

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is “lamentable”, “utterly useless”, a “creep” and a “shit”. Those are not the words of Donald Trump, but they are all used in an article in this newspaper last week.

The author of that article, it seems, does not like Joe Biden. He prefers that American workers throw their support behind the little-known candidate of the Green Party, Howie Hawkins.

American trade unionists have a rather different view of the former Vice President.

They are throwing everything they have into ensuring a massive voter turnout and a convincing win for Biden – especially among working-class voters in battleground states like Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

If you were to ask union leaders and activists why they were backing Biden, they would read off a long list of campaign commitments Biden has made, many of which echo the ideas of Senator Bernie Sanders.

One of those commitments that socialists should find particularly interesting is Biden’s promise to seriously reform America’s labour laws.

A half century ago, American unions were a force to be reckoned with. But in recent decades, union membership has plummeted. The reason for that is primarily the employers’ war against workers, using tactics both legal and illegal to bust unions and to deny workers their basic human right to join and form a trade union.

Under the rule of the Republican party, it has gotten much worse, with public sector unions being the target of relentless attacks.

Here’s what the Biden campaign says: their candidate “strongly supports the Protecting the Right to Organize Act’s (PRO Act) provisions instituting financial penalties on companies that interfere with workers’ organizing efforts, including firing or otherwise retaliating against workers. Biden will go beyond the PRO Act by enacting legislation to impose even stiffer penalties on corporations and to hold company executives personally liable when they interfere with organizing efforts, including criminally liable when their interference is intentional.”

The Democratic Party platform could not be clearer about this: “Democrats will prioritize passing the PRO Act and restoring workers’ rights, including the right to launch secondary boycotts. We will repeal so-called ‘right to work’ laws that undermine worker power.” It goes on like that for several paragraphs.

The PRO Act was introduced in Congress in May 2019 and went nowhere, because Republicans control the Senate and the White House. Among its sponsors are Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The passage of this bill will do much to revitalise the American labour movement, by recruiting millions of new members in a way that hasn’t happened since the 1930s. At that time, with the Democrats controlling Congress and the White House, the National Labor Relations Act was passed and union membership exploded. The same thing might happen again if the PRO Act passes.

This is no small thing, especially if you want to see a much stronger and more influential labour movement in America. It really does matter to unions, and it is one of many reasons Biden is a better choice for workers.

Cynics will say that Biden is just saying that to win votes. But socialists are not cynics. We look at the reality, and in the real world – not the world in which Joe Biden is a “creep” (which is Donald Trump’s world) – Biden needs the support of the unions. He and the Democrats will benefit from a much stronger trade union movement, and if he wins the PRO Act will become law.

Trade unionists in America understand this, which is why – with the exception of a handful of police unions that are supporting Trump – their support for Biden is unanimous.

And – it’s important to point out – they are not wrong.

This article appears in this week’s issue of Solidarity.