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October 1, 2021 32 mins

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome back to the It could happen here. Yeah, that's
the podcast we're doing right now. It's a podcast about
how things are kind of falling apart, but maybe they
don't need to, or at least not as much as
they have been. I'm Robert Evans with me, as often
is my co host Garrison. Davis Garrison, UM say something

inciting to the audience. I'm on my second cup of coffee. Yeah,
because it is. It is the early morning for you,
by which I mean to eleven in the afternoon. Um,
also with us today. Our guest for this episode is
David Van Douson. Uh. David, you are the president of
the State Labor Council for the Vermont a f l

c i O and there's a bunch of stuff that's
interesting about your organization. Will dig into it in more
detail in a second, but first I just want to
say hello and thank you for being on the show. Now, David,
the big thing, I mean, the Vermont A f l
c IO has been in the news a couple of
times recently. The most recent one is y'all issued a
statement making you the coverage I've seen has said the

first labor organization of the us to like support gun rights.
I mean like as is stated in a lot of
the stuff you've put out, like Blair Mountain. There's a
long history of labor organizations making use of the Second Amendment,
but um, I certainly haven't heard of a labor organization
stating it the way you did, Which is basically the
case you've made, is because far right fascist organizations are

so heavily armed and any all of the gun control
policies being heavily debated, at least among liberals, are likely
to ignore those people while restricting the ability of working
class and particularly marginalized people to arm themselves. Um, you
do not support those regulations because you support the rights
of those groups to be able to defend themselves from fascists.

That more or less correct. Well, Look, we believe in
the right of the people to defend themselves, but our policies,
including that one, are not adopted by the elected leadership,
including myself. They're adopted by our members. We believe very
firmly and democracy participatory democracy. So with issues like this,

we're happy to bring into our convention, which we recently did,
and facilitate a full debate on the issue. So that's
exactly what we did. We talked about it, our rank
and file members talked about it. They made amendments, They
debated passionately different sides of the issue in a respectful way,
in a productive way. A number of amendments were made,

they were adopted, and then ultimately the resolution was passed
with over a two thirds majority of our record file
delegates in favor. So that's where we are right now. Yeah,
I have read a bit about this, including you know,
there's been some critiques from a representative from the a
f T, which is the local teachers union. But there
was also a member of the Vermont a f l

C i oh who essentially stated, like, hey, I didn't
actually agree with this amendment but or with this resolution,
but it was made democratically, and like I I support
the process by which it was done. Which is one
of the things I think is it is so interesting
here that this isn't like um UM a kind of
a group of activists at the top making declaration declarations.
This is an organization that is really um dedicated itself.

Increasingly too, I think a kind of progressive ism that
we we haven't really seen in an organized way, and
a lot of the American labor movement until recently. Well,
when you're talking about democracy in the labor I mean
we could be just as well talking about democracy in
society as such. The fact is is that organized labor
today is not particularly democratic, and we're looking to change that,

and our world is not particularly democratic now. The vision
that we hold our slate are progressive slate called United,
is one where we increase the means for direct, productory democracy,
both within labor and within our society. So of course
we're going to go to our members and our rank
and file and ask them to debate the issues of
our day and ultimately to make a decision on these

major political and social issues. This was one we again,
we do believe that people need to have a right,
the working class needs to have a right to defend itself,
and we can't bury our head in the stand. Anybody
that's even followed a little bit of the news lately
will know that between November up until late January, we

were one general shy of a coup in this country,
in the upside down world that we're now living in.
It was because of the joint chiefs of Staff and
the head of the c I A not supporting a
coup that a neo fascist cou didn't totally in fold
materialized in a more mature form. Let that sink infament.

Our democracy, or the vestiges of the democracy we have
in the United States right now, is precarious. H They
just because as they've been there for two hundred years
doesn't mean they're gonna be there tomorrow. The new playbook
from an increasingly far right Republican party is to limit
as much as they possibly could a people's right to

vote and to participate in the political process. We see
this happening in Texas, We see this happening in Georgia,
we see this happening in Florida. We see this happening
in Red. Uh I shouldn't say red, but I should
say Republican states all throughout the US. So these are dangerous,
dangerous times, right, so dangerous that our top generals were

trying to decide what their position would be and make
plans in case a coup, a full encoup, not just
a hint of a coup, came into being within the
last year of our republic. Now, given those realities and
giving the rise of the far right, given that our
former president Donald Trump told the neo fascist Proud Boys

to stand what do you say, stand back and stand by. Yeah,
that's right. And now at least they claimed that forty
thousand members around the United States and they are aren't. Uh,
you know, we can't just rest in our laurels and
pretend that the state as such is going to keep
us safe. So it seems prudent and reasonable for us

to have taken the action and say we defend our
constitutional right to bear arms as intended to defend our communities.
They defend our unions, to defend the working class. And
one of the things that because we were just talking
about the the coup that very nearly got pulled off
your organization, at least in uh, I believe it was

right after the election, issued a statement that if the
president illegally attempted to stay in power, the former president,
you would participate in an attempt to help organize a
general strike. Now that's something we talk about a lot
on this show. We're big believers in the potential of
a general strike. Were also big believers that the kind
of general strike that we need to I don't know,

potentially get climate justice and a number of other major
things is an undertaking on par with the space race.
You know, you're talking about an enormous task. I'm really
interested in picking your brain on when we talk about
a national general strike, what is the kind of infrastructure
that's actually necessary to make something like that feasible. Because
there's a lot of talk on like Twitter and Facebook

of like, let's just do a general strike on this
day in October. I six months doesn't go by. As
President l c I o Vermont, where I don't left,
this group of some kind contacted me to endorse their
general strike, right going to shut down on datas and
it's yet to happen, at least in our country. So
that's a great question. A couple of things. When we voted,

and again this wasn't a decision of myself and the leadership.
This was a decision we went back to the rank
and file with to our to one of our conventions
of our delegates. After our long debate, voted to authorize
the elected the active board to call for a general
strike in the event of a coup, in the event
that there wasn't transfer power on January as the constitution requires.

It was our feeling that in that very specific space
and time in that very specific political climate, um, we
would be able to call for such a strike and
with a serious amount of work and a serious amount
of organizing, pull that off and make that happen. And
the thought was if we could do it in Vermont,
because the call was a further Mont general strike, then

it could spread to other states, which would be absolutely
necessary if there was if our country descended into a
fascist dictatorship of some sort. But generally speaking, when we
talk about climate issues, when we talked about the fact
that millions of Americans don't have healthcare or aren't paid
liv wages, all of these issues are at least these
issues together certainly warrant us looking at things like a

general strike. But they're a bit it's a bit phine.
This guide to think that, hey, we got ten great
issues that we want to see progress on, we're gonna
call for our striking is going to happen. The infrastructure
is not there, nor is the political will within the
large labor bodies at this praised present time. Without participation
from organized labor, first of all, I don't think anything
is going to happen. So you're gonna have to achieve

buy in a certain level. But even with buy in
from key leaders or even a localized shop stewards, you
still need to have infrastructure in place. So one of
the things that lacks in the a f l C
i O as a national organization, we don't have an
effective network of local union contacts in every shop, at
every shift, in every factory that's represented by union, let

alone the majority of workplaces at this point that aren't unionized.
So what our top priority is as far as the
Vermont a fl C goes over the next two years,
is to build a network of local union contacts in
every single shop and every single shift that we represent
folks here in Vermont. So we see this as a

way to increase communication. Without communication, you're not going to
be able to pull off mass mobilizations and what and
also you're not going to be able to conduct mass
education on issues X, Y or Z. So over a
period of two years, we're looking to build this network
that would function not as a one way means of communication,
but almost a two or three way. Imagine that this

is a way for the rank and file to communicate
up to the leaders. This is a way for the
leadership to communicate down to the ranks, I mean down
to the lunch room level of what it means to
be in a union shop. And also ideally it's going
to be a way for local union leaders to horizontally
communicate with each other. With such a structure in place

on a grand scale, on a state scale, on a
federal scale, then things like organized general strikes over political
issues and social issues become feasible. And even when they're feasible, though,
then we still have the political question of you know,
will they be supported by the internationals? Will you be
supported by the executive board of the National a fl
C O. And that's a huge conversation, you know. So, Yeah,

it's interesting to me hearing your perspective on this, because
my experience with kind of activism UM has been much
more of kind of the decentralized and kind of much
more recent groups, you know, since occupy. Um, you're dealing
with these these structures that in a lot of cases
or I mean the a f l c I O
goes back like what like a century, right one one
way or the other. Yeah, you know, I think um

because of kind of how shall I say, online, A
lot of the discussion about this stuff seems to be
organized labor often gets left out. And one of the
things that I think is most important when talking about
the value that organized labor has in any kind of
discussion if a general strike is what happened during the
during the budget uh negotiations or whatever you want to

call them in twenty nineteen, where you you had UM
airline workers threatening a general strike that effectively brought it
into a present and saber rattling over over the budget
like it's it's president Sarah Nelson. Yeah, headlines over that
and that was the right thing to do, absolutely to her,
and would love to hear in a stronger positional leadership

than asked. Oh well, I'm interested because I see a
lot of potential in Obviously, organized labor has had a
lot of problems, particularly in the last you know, during
my lifetime, UM, And I think part of it is

what you said earlier, there's it's not as democratic as
it should be at most levels. UM. What you guys
have done with United is attempting to reform that, you
know within Vermont. I'm wondering, first, how did that kind
of come about? You know, nineteen is when you first
got got put into office, When when the United state
got put in the to the office in Vermont. What

was kind of the back story to that? And then
my second question is kind of do you see as
necessary to like what what what's what's the fight as
you see it to get stuff like that done on
a larger scale around the country. So our story in
Vermont is probably a lot like the story of organized
labor in many different places. Our starting point. So in

two thousand and seventeen, not that long ago, Ah, we
had a convention with something like twenty or twenty five
delegates there. Imagine that twenty delegates representing ten at the time,
ten thousand grown since, but ten thousand members and that's
called the democracy. So there was a problem, an existential problem.

Now I come out of asked me localeen in the
northeast kingdom of Vermont. So when I got together with
a number of other leaders from different unions, different asked
me locals but also United Academics is part of a
f T the building trades. A number of folks, uh
the it was a general recognition at the leadership level

that something was very wrong. Member participation was weakest can
be and things had to change. And we continually as
an organization, you know, with some exceptions, hitch our wagon
to the shortcomings that are the Democratic Party. So all
of these things together led to inactivity, apathy, and lack

of democracy. So we started going around, We started talking
with workers, we started talking with shops across the state.
And one of the first things that was striking. People
would say they would know what union they're n be
A A PWU or asking or whatever it was. But
we'd say, listen, we're talking. We're thinking about running a
slate progressive slave for office with to take the a

f l c i O in a new direction. The
next thing they would say, is, what's the A f
l c I M. Think about that? Right, workers involved,
some of which were union stewarts and their locals didn't
even know what the A f l c I O was.
So that was our starting point. It was an excellent
crisis of labor. And mind you, during these what I

would call some dark periods, we would often endorse a
hundred candidates for state House, nearly all of which being Democrats,
and then we they would win. They would win their elections,
like largely our candidates win, and then we get nothing
in the state House. Right, there'd be no labor bill,

there'd be no advancement of card check, differently the organized labor,
and yet we keep repeating the same mistake year and
year out and not figure out that something was wrong.
So when we formed the United State as a coalition
of a number of different unions to recognize it was
time for change, we really brought the discussion into the
grassroots level. We developed a ten point program we called

our Little read Book. It's now the policy and the
platform of the Vermont FLA, and we ran an organized
campaign based on that right at a very local level.
And here we did all the things that you know
you should be doing, the phone calls, the emails, the
shop visits, all of this and created a sense of
excitement going into our two nine convention. Our two thousand

nineteen convention with over if I recall over a hundred
and five delegates and alternates, was the largest convention we
had up here in in something like thirty plus years.
So that was an exciting atmosphere where something was going
to be different and something was going to change right.
So we swept. We essentially slept those elections. We want

all the seats except for one. We had a follow
up convention in two UM sorry election in two where
we won every single seat, and then in the last
election UM we won all seats except for one where
one person who's a good, good person from the building
trades ran but was not part of our state. So

the real question is what have we done in the intern,
how are we changing that direction, and how we changing
trying to seek to change the capacity of labor and
what lessons does it add to the national agroom. I
would suppose so on that for one of the first
things we did is we took money out of our
lobbying operation and put it into an organizing department, whereby

we would hire and we have hired on call organizers
to assist our affiliates in either new organizing or internal organizing,
therefore delivering an actual benefit to our affiliate unions. Now,
mind you, we represent just about every sector of workers
all across the state, but forever they very rarely got
a concrete, measurable acts of solidarity from the federation as such,

right because all of a lot of too many of
the resources were put in belombing. And we also took
a critical eye towards the Democratic Party, and recently we've
instead endorsed the Social Democratic Form Progressive Party slates and
their runs for state house and in statewide office and
any cases. So we've done a few things differently. We're

continuing to do things differently. We've expanded the size of
our executive board so you we elect more leaders now.
We've more than double the size of the delegates afforded
to each local so we could have more rank and
foot file voices present when we're meeting at a convention.
And we've taken a strong um social justice position where
we think that organized labor must work very closely in

an alliance form alliances with groups like Migrant Justice or
Black Perspective or environmental organizations like three fifty dot org.
And we've done those things, worked on their issues where
we have common interests, and we've asked them to support
us on our issues where where they may have some
common interests. So those are things that are very different

that the National a f LC has not doing. Other
state labor federations largely aren't doing enough, and we're hoping
now to build that out. And we're engaging conversations seeking
to form a national Progressive Caucus within the National AC
And I think that's so important when you talk about

kind of on the national level for progressives Number one
to not not continually kind of reflectively support the Democratic
Party when the Democratics parties is failing progressives, which you know,
we have a perfect case study right now in Congress
with the the Reconciliation Bill. UM. It often does seem

like such an insurmountable task just because the inability like
a bill the three point five trillion dollar infrastructure bill,
is so widely supported by Americans, but it it just
keeps coming down to this tiny number of folks with uh,
you know, financial interests in donors, um, who are who
are pushing against something that's widely supported. And I feel

um optimistic when I look at state organizations like what
y'all are doing and the fact that I can see
something building, But I also it does is such a
titanic task to imagine translating that on a national scale
in a way that actually gets us the things that
you know, we we really can't wait for when you're
talking about some of this infrastructure stuff, when you're talking
about healthcare, when you're talking about climate justice, Like I

do feel the clock ticking, um, and I'm wondering what
you see as the hope on the national scale for
actually putting some muscle behind the progressive movement. Well, look,
it's not just the the issues of the infrastructure bill
and the budget bill. It's also the Proact right the
bill that is language in the Senate. And let's not

lose track of the fact that those efforts are all
stalling and likely very likely to fail. And I hope
they don't because of Democrats, because the Democratic Party is
not united. They ran on a platform saying they were
going to do X, Y and Z, and now when
they're in a position to carry it out, they're not
going to do it. And Joe Manchin uh far as

i'm can turned, uh call him a class trader, but
I don't think he's ever was part of the working class.
He claims to support the Proact, but in the same
breath he he won't get rid of the filibuster. So,
I mean, that's absolute bullshit as far as I'm concerned.
So how do we change that? Well, the national A
f l c I O puts millions and millions and

millions of dollars into elections. We have gotten so many
of these people elected and back them in Arizona and
West Virginia, you name it, and then we get nothing back.
If we were to take that money instead and put
it into a robust new organizing department or a recrafted
organizing department and actually assigned reel on the ground organizers

in every single state in the country to help our affiliates,
to help our state federations and their affiliates to internally organized,
to build a kind of network I talked was talking
to me about before, and to be active and build
alliances the Social Justice Group, our power would be amplified
five million fold. This is the way we do it.
Politicians aren't going to do what's right because it's right.

Politicians are gonna do what's right when they feel so
much pressure that they have to do it. Now, the
victories that we saw for working people during the Great
Depression under FDR, that wasn't just because FDR thought, you know,
this is the right thing to do. It's because people
are going on strike, because people were organized because they
were scared of revolutionary change in this country. So turned

to meaningful, true, true um of major reforms as a
way to blunt that perceived threat that they have. And
that's what we got to get back to not our
power is never gonna grow from people who are wearing
ties in Washington. Our power is gonna grow based on
our solidarity on the shop floor and in our communities.

So that's the direction we gotta go, and we got
to do that rapidly, very rapidly. It's been clear to
me for quite a while both that the reason workers
gain so much in the wake of the Great Depression

and the only kind of hope we have for doing
that now is UM, they have to be scared, you know,
to an extent, they have to be scared of of
what's arrayed against them, both in its organization and in
its ability to disrupt things. UM. And I I'm wondering
what you think people listening, people UM, who maybe are

not involved in organized labor, Like what what what do
you think people can do to further those ends? Like
this is like when we when we start talking about
national level A f L C, I O politics, that's
not something I think most people listening feel like they
have any kind of ability to influence. UM, what do
you think they can influence? What do you think people

can be doing to build that kind of capacity? Well,
you gotta be active, and you've got engage in the
flip go on social movements. But also most folks, you know,
they're gonna have a job of some time, and a
lot of folks aren't getting treated the way they should
in their job. I don't care if you work in
a coffee shop, in a restaurant, or in a gas station,

or in manufacturing, and you could start by organizing with
your coworkers to form a union today. You know, you
could reach out to a local union to ask for help,
or you could do it on your own. Frankly, but
if we're not organized as working people, and we are
we are most of the world. If we're not organized
amongst ourselves, we're not going to be able to become

that expression of power that we need to be in
order to create the change. If we're just a collection
of individuals, then the ruling class, the wealthy, the powerful,
the elite, they're gonna have all their ducks in a
row to keep us divided and to keep their foot
on the pedal of the status quo. So we need
to come together, We need to organize in the natural

place to organize is in the workplace. In my opinion, yeah,
I mean it. It is the natural place to organize.
It's also become an increasingly difficult place to organize. We
all watch what Amazon did in Bessemer this year, know, UM,
And and that fight is still ongoing to an extent. UM,
but it is Uh, it is a continuing challenge, UM

to to actually effectively unionized in a lot of the
industries where it matters most you know, UM, Like we
have some choke point industries, like we talked about aircraft
employees that are heavily unionized, thankfully, and that do have
a lot of power, as has been demonstrated recently when
they when they go to the mat. UM. But I
I'm interested in kind of we we've got, you know,

Amazon employees is really one of the areas that I'm
looking at where my god, if if we could actually
if something significant could actually get off the ground and
a significant number of those workers could get organized, it
could make a real difference. UM. But know you've got
effectively what are community organizations for the most part going

up against UM. You know, Amazon at this point has
more resources than most nations states. Yeah, but so did
the Carnegies and the Rockefellers and the folks like this
and and are particularly and it's always been hard, uh
too long ago in our country, maybe during our grandfather's day,
where there was a very good chance you'd be shot
or at least beat over the head with a club

from the Pinkerton's if you try to organize. Organizing has
never been easy. And such as Columbia today, trade unions
are killed at an unbelievable clip, almost on a daily basis,
and yet still they organized. So I'm not suggesting to
any of your listeners that if this is easy, what
I am that it has to happen. It has to happen.

And there's different models too, Like in some places, one
of the models that's been effectively used as forming workers centers, right,
so that's not a traditional union, a center in a
city or in a community or in a town where
workers come together and strategized, right at a in a location,
to strategize how to be effective as a group, as

a whole, as a class on issues that are important
to them, you know, be an economic, be its social,
be it um finding against racism, whatever it may be.
That's a model that I suggest folks could could look
into as an alternative way if for whatever reason you
don't feel that the time is right for a union
in your shop today, although it needs to be tomorrow.

Take a look at workers center and see if there's
one in your community. Get involved. If not, get together
a few people and see what it would take to
start when where you live. But one way or another,
we have to be organized, we have to come together.
We cannot just be a collection of individuals. That's a
great point, UM, and useful information. I think kind of
the last thing I wanted to get into UM was
one of the things I first learned about your organization

that you issued a solidarity statement back and I think
it was two thousand nineteen UM with the YPG and
J in Rojaba. UM. And you've issued you know it
stated your solidarity with Black Lives matter, with the Zapatista's
currently what they're undergoing in Mexico, UM, which is massive
repression from the government yet again, UM. And you know

your support of Palestinian rights and of against sort of
the U S occupation or not occupation, but a blockade
of Cuba. UM. What do you see when we're talking
about this struggle, this broad struggle we've be talking about
all day, what do you see as the role of
internationalism in both in both organizing people in organizing resistance. Well,

our starting point today is capital is international. So if
we're going to have a foundational challenge to the power
of capital, we also have to be internationalists in our outbum.
We supported the YPGPJ and the newly elected government in
Rojava because they are struggling for economic equity and a

direct cont history democracy in that corner of the world.
We see this as the most significant revolution in in
the world, uh, in generations. I mean this in our
mind is on far with the Spanish Civil War and
what we saw around Barcelona and the CNT them or
the Paris Commune of seventy one. If this was happening

in Europe, a day wouldn't go by where this wouldn't
be front page news. But in the Western world we
often the corporate media terms of blind blind eye to
many of those starts. So they're doing their part and
we have to do our part in our country to
the Zabatistas are doing their part in Schiapas in broadways
in some regards in Mexico as such, but we need

to reach our hand out in encouragement and say Hey,
we're here to support you. One of the things we
sought to concretely do in the Vermont labor movement is
in two thousand nine, one of our Central Labor count
Council's passed the resolutions for We said, look, if you
go over to fight and volunteer with the YEPG and
y p J, because there's thousands of volunteers right uh,

they're are volunteered to go over. If you return and
you're American, will hook you up with a union job
and we'll hook you up with three months of room
and board so you could get reacclimated, you could get
back into the community and get back into the local
fight through the labor movement. And we were proud to
actually uh have an opportunity to do that for one
returning American fighter in our latest resolution in two one.

And this one was broader because it was the whole
vermonti a FO, not just the Central Labor Council. We
again offered, we encourage folks to feel so inclined if
they're in that place in their life to volunteer with
the YPG and y p JA, and if they're Americans
and they come back, we're happy to hook you up.
We'll do our best to get you a good union
job when you return. So we felt that was a

very small least we could do, kind of thing, but
concrete way to provide solidarity. We all have to stand together.
It's really one fight. But the place we're going to
be effective is where you live locally, in your town,
in your city, and your state and in your country. Yeah.
I think that's a great note to end on and
a great thing that you all are doing. And I

really do appreciate that, and I appreciate you, David coming
on and talking to us today. Um, is there anything
else you wanted to to to get out or anything
you wanted to like any you know, charities or mutual
aid funds or whatever you wanted to uh push before
we kind of roll out today. I'd just like to
push for folks to go to workout tomorrow and organize,

organize with your follow workers and let's change the world solidarity.
Thank you, David, Robert Evans here and I wanted to
ask for your help. There is a Portland area woman
Ruba to me me. She's an Arabic interpreter and a
Palestinian liberation activist and she is trying to save her home.
At the moment, she's got to go fund me. If

you go to save Ruba's House, are you be a
on go fund thank You'll find it. Save Ruba's house
on go fund Me. You've got a few bucks. She
could really use it again Save Ruba's House? Are you
be a at go fund Me? Thanks? It Could Happen
Here is a production of cool Zone Media. For more
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Stuff You Should Know

Stuff You Should Know

If you've ever wanted to know about champagne, satanism, the Stonewall Uprising, chaos theory, LSD, El Nino, true crime and Rosa Parks, then look no further. Josh and Chuck have you covered.

The Nikki Glaser Podcast

The Nikki Glaser Podcast

Every week comedian and infamous roaster Nikki Glaser provides a fun, fast-paced, and brutally honest look into current pop-culture and her own personal life.

Music, radio and podcasts, all free. Listen online or download the iHeart App.


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