Democratic presidential hopefuls are seizing on anti-corporate rhetoric and policy proposals as they look to win the support of influential labor unions and frame themselves as working-class heroes.
While virtually every Democrat in the race has sworn off corporate campaign cash, many are still grappling with past ties to powerful industries and fear that candidates like Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) could eventually frame their more recent denunciations of big business and special interests as inauthentic or opportunistic.
Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.), a longtime critic of big business who has called for the break-up of big tech companies like Amazon, has been especially vocal. She recently joined Stop & Shop workers on strike in Somerville, Mass, on April 12, the day after the strike for better wages and benefits was declared.
Stop and Shop “workers deserve fair wages and good benefits—and I’m behind them 100% of the way,” she tweeted last week.
“I stand in solidarity with @UFCW and the 31K workers who are making their voices heard,” she added, referring to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegScaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach Biden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE rallied with them on Friday in Malden, Mass. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE, who has not officially declared his candidacy, rallied with the workers in Boston on Thursday. And Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-Minn.) joined them on the picket line on Friday in Somerville.
Additionally, Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-N.J.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (D-N.Y.) tweeted their support for the strike.
Sanders, who has made income inequality and protecting workers a key part of his campaign, has repeatedly touted his support for unions and his denunciations of “corporate greed.”
“We need elected officials and candidates at every level to get serious about forcefully speaking out for unions. It’s not good enough for candidates to say they like “workers” or the “middle class.” We need to specifically and explicitly support trade UNIONS,” Sanders tweeted earlier this month.
No candidate “wants to be the last one to the table” when it comes to working-class issues, one Democratic source in New Hampshire said, noting that while Sanders carried that mantle in 2016, other 2020 hopefuls have taken up similar positions.
For some candidates, the anti-corporate messaging appears intended to reassure voters that they have come to embrace a more progressive platform – and that past industry ties will not influence their campaigns.
Booker, for instance, has sought to overcome criticism that he is too cozy with corporate interests, including those of the pharmaceutical industry.
In a radio interview in February, the New Jersey senator said that, if elected president, he would hold to account drug companies that hike price excessively.
“It’s unconscionable how people are profiteering off the pain of others, and we’re going to make sure we hold them accountable,” he said.
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The anti-corporate, pro-labor message is reflective of a sense among some Democrats that the party has drifted away from its working-class reputation in recent years, ultimately ceding the industrial-era hubs that Democrats once relied on – Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania among them – to President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE in 2016.
That notion has been seared into Democrats’ 2020 strategies: virtually every candidate vying for the Democratic nomination has denounced the role of corporate money in politics; campaign rhetoric is rife with tales of blue-collar upbringings and life experiences; and talking about corporate greed has become a crowd-pleaser at rallies.
Candidates like Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanMinnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen Congress must fill the leadership void Pelosi pushes to unite party on coronavirus bill despite grumbling from left MORE (D-Ohio), for example, have made their working class backgrounds a key part of their campaigns, often in personal terms.
In his announcement, Ryan recounted how his father-in-law was laid off from Youngstown Sheet and Tube in the late 1970s and, later, how jobs at a local factory in Ohio were offshored to China.
Steven Billet, the director of the masters program in legislative affairs at George Washington University, said candidates joining workers on strike so they can’t get pinned as the pro-big business politician in the race is “a rational strategy.”
“This element of the Democratic Party is probably its most active and vocal. A full-blown attack by them could cripple some of the weaker campaigns,” Billet told The Hill. “With the large number of candidates in the field, voters are looking for any reason/any weakness to eliminate candidates from the field.”
ADVERTISEMENTHe added that staking out a position with this element inoculates a candidate from subsequent attacks related to their “purity.”
By talking up their working-class credentials, Democrats are also hoping to score endorsements from organized labor.
Many unions are waiting longer to endorse in the 2020 race, fearing a repeat of 2016. That year, several labor groups saw local and regional chapters endorse Sanders despite national leaders offering their support to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE.
The delayed endorsements have not stopped candidates from meeting with labor leaders, speaking at union conferences and picketing with workers.
Just this month, for instance, more than half a dozen Democratic contenders spoke at the North America’s Building Trades Unions legislative conference in Washington.
There are also financial incentives for courting organized labor. Some unions have associated political action committees (PACs) that can dole out valuable campaign dollars to candidates.
Harris, for example received $1,000 from the San Francisco-based International Longshore & Warehouse Union Political Action Fund just last month, though other candidates, like Warren, have disavowed PAC contributions entirely, not just those from corporate-aligned groups.
Ultimately, candidates hope that support for unions will translate into good will – and votes – during the primary process.
Shortly after Buttigieg appeared with striking UFCW workers, the union, which has nearly 1.3 million members spread across the United States and Canada, expressed its gratitude.
“Thank you to @PeteButtigieg and everyone standing with
#StopAndShopWorkers!,” the tweet read, with a picture of Buttigieg addressing the striking UFCW workers.