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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Untapped Dem Resource: Veterans in Labor

John Russo, co-editor of Working-Class Perspectives writes “Media stereotypes of military vets present them as right-wing and often reactionary, but as Steve Early writes in this week’s Working-Class Perspectives, that image ignores an important reality: working-class veterans are more likely to belong to unions than other workers. Veterans have led important labor battles, and, as Early’s profiles of today’s leaders makes clear, they are still fighting against the privatization of government services and for improving access for vets and others to higher education and health care.” An excerpt from Early’s Working-Class Perspectives article:

Even in the era of identity politics, one category of identity has largely been ignored: what UK journalist Joe Glenton calls “veteranhood.”19 million former soldiers — most of them working class — share a strong sense of personal identity as vets, but the media usually notices them only when they are involved in right-wing militias, white supremacist groups, and other MAGA-land formations. Some have noted their over-representation in U.S. law enforcement, which does reinforce  militarized policing, along with the better known Pentagon-to-police equipment pipeline.

Largely ignored is the positive role veterans from working-class backgrounds have played in key labor and political struggles since the mid-20th century.  In the heyday of industrial unionism in the 1950s and ‘60s, tens of thousands of World War II veterans could be found on the front-lines of labor struggles in auto, steel, electrical equipment manufacturing, mining, trucking, and the telephone industry.  Today, about 1.3 million former service members work in union jobs, and women and people of color make up the fastest growing cohorts in these ranks.

Veterans are, according to the AFL-CIO, more likely to join a union than non-veterans. In a half dozen states, 25% or more of working veterans belong to unions. Vermont AFL-CIO President David Van Deusen sees veterans as “an underutilized resource for the labor movement,” particularly in high-profile organizing campaigns. No one, he believes, is better positioned to “expose the hypocrisy and duplicity of ‘veteran-friendly’ firms like Amazon and Walmart, who wrap themselves in the flag, while violating the rights of working-class Americans who served in uniform and the many who did not.”

That’s why former SEIU organizer Jane McAlevey recommends that unions today learn from the example of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the post-war era. . CIO organizers understood that former soldiers have “strategic value” in strike-related PR campaigns. Veterans also have “experience with discipline, military formation, and overcoming fear and adversity,” all very useful on militant picket-lines.

Tony Mazzocchi was a good example. After World War II,  he became a catalyst for change within the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW) and the broader labor movement for five decades. A survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, Mazzocchi spearheaded labor’s fight for the 1972 Occupational Safety and Health Act, which now provides workplace protections for 130 million Americans.  During his storied career, Mazzocchi also campaigned for civil rights, nuclear disarmament, labor-based environmentalism, and single-payer health care….

Read the rest of the article here.

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