Giant labor union tells members: Vote ‘Uncommitted’ in Washington State primary

The 50,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 3000 in Washington State are being advised by their union to vote “Uncommitted” when they head to the polls for the Democratic Primary on March 12.

Local 3000 is the biggest union in Washington and is the first official labor body in the country to endorse the Uncommitted effort as a means of protesting President Joe Biden’s continued support for Israel’s genocidal war against Gaza.

It represents workers in the grocery, retail, health care, meatpacking, cannabis, and other industries in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

The executive board of the union unanimously backed the Uncommitted endorsement Wednesday night, less than 24 hours after 101,000 primary voters in Michigan cast ballots expressing their lack of confidence in Biden.

UFCW 3000 issued a statement saying that while Biden had been “an ally to workers over the last four years,” it’s not clear he will be able to hold out against Donald Trump if he continues down the divisive path of supporting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war.

The members of the executive board of UFCW Local 3000 voted unanimously to endorse an ‘Uncommitted’ vote in the Washington State Democratic Primary on March 12. | Via UFCW 3000

Labor’s political muscle

The board pointed out that “the entire purpose” of a primary election “is for voters to cast their ballot to reflect their current wish for the party’s nomination.” And thus far, it implied that Biden is not behaving like the candidate workers need to see.

Protections for low-wage workers, the right to organize, and other gains achieved before and during Biden’s time in office cannot be lost, the union said. “To protect workers, we must give ourselves the best chance to defeat anti-worker forces in the General Election.”

The union said, “We need a nominee who can run and beat Trump to protect workers across this country and around the world.”

The declaration was worded such that it could even be interpreted as signaling that some other, unnamed, candidate might be better suited to take on Trump. The immediate concern, however, was clearly to pressure Biden to change his stance.

“Currently, many voters, and the UFCW 3000 executive board, feel that the best path to have the best nominee, and to defeat Trump, is to vote ‘uncommitted,’” the statement continued. “The hope is that this will strengthen the Democratic Party’s ultimate nominee to defeat Trump in the General Election in November.”

Unlike swing-state Michigan, Washington reliably goes Democrat in national elections, so there is essentially zero chance of Biden losing the state’s 12 Electoral College votes. However, powerful labor unions from blue states play outsize roles in fundraising and get-out-the-vote operations for Democrats in other areas—something Local 3000 reminds the president of in its statement.

The union stated unequivocally that it intends to throw everything it’s got into the effort to defeat Trump and other Republican candidates up-and-down the ballot. It vowed to send “staff, members, and resources to any swing state across the nation to support the Democratic nominee to win and defeat Trump.”

Local 3000 went on to praise the Michigan voters who voted Uncommitted and bluntly stated that to win its support, “Biden must push for a lasting ceasefire and ending U.S. funding toward this reckless war.” It said the best way to “send this message for policy change is through a vote of ‘uncommitted.’”

Biden ignored the Uncommitted campaign in Michigan, however, not even mentioning it in his morning-after remarks on the primary. Finally, a day later, his campaign co-chair, Mitch Landrieu, responded to the 101,000 protest votes. His paternalistic and condescending remarks left peace campaigners angry.

“We’re going to continue to talk to them [the Uncommitted voters],” Landrieu said, “and then ask them to think about the choices and what the consequences are of electing somebody who wants to have a Muslim ban.”

Landrieu’s was a familiar liberal tactic: Use Trump as a threat to scare critics into line while ridiculing their concerns.

Layla Elabed, manager of Listen to Michigan, the organization behind the Uncommitted campaign, slammed Landrieu and the president, saying in a statement:

“It is deeply offensive that President Biden keeps suggesting he has a messaging issue among Arab Americans and young people rather than a funding bombs issue. Biden’s re-election chances will be judged by how much of Gaza is left standing by November. It is our hope that Biden chooses the people of America over sending Netanyahu a blank check for war and occupation.”

A new National Labor Network for Ceasefire, made up of unions representing over nine million U.S. workers, was formed in mid-February.

Onus on Biden

The move by UFCW Local 3000 is warning sign for the Democratic Party. While the push for an “Uncommitted” vote might be coming from just one union local so far, it looks increasingly possible that it will turn out to be but the first in a wave of labor pullbacks from Biden.

As a core constituency of the Democratic political machine’s funding and staffing apparatus, the dissent of organized labor will not be easy to ignore if it spreads. And the recent establishment of a new “National Labor Network for Ceasefire,” consisting of unions representing over nine million workers, suggests that’s already happening.

Biden’s support for and complicity in Israel’s brutal war—which has already killed more than 30,000 Palestinians—threatens to split apart the anti-MAGA coalition that removed Trump from the White House in 2020. Whatever domestic or economic policy achievements the Democratic Party touts as reasons to support Biden, his backing for genocide could overshadow them all.

To protect and strengthen the unity needed to beat Trump and save U.S. democracy, the onus is on Biden to alter course.

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.