By Guy Page
The Labor Day Weekend began Friday with another sign that Vermont’s AFL-CIO labor organization has taken a hard turn to the left. Led by a president who is a self-described Antifa supporter, the 10,000-member umbrella group for smaller private and public sector unions fulfilled a 2019 promise to choose the Progressive Party (and the Green New Deal and ‘anti-fascist’ activism) over the Democratic Party.
On September 16 one year ago, when David Van Deusen was elected president of the Vermont AFL-CIO, he warned the Democratic Party to not take organized labor for granted: “We have endorsed dozens and dozens and dozens of candidates for state house every two years,” Van Deusen said. “Those candidates tend to win, and yet we have a very hard time moving a pro-labor agenda forward in Montpelier.”
The shoe dropped September 4 when an AFL-CIO press release stated unambiguously, “VT AFL-CIO backs Progressive slate in General Election.” A photo shows mostly Progressive challengers for legislative seats (and a few incumbents, like Brian Cina of Burlington).
The Democrat-controlled Legislature has been ignoring private-sector unions for years. By contrast, large, powerful public sector unions like the Vermont NEA and the Vermont State Employees Association are taken seriously when they pound the table and demand funding or legislation. They may not always get their way but their political influence is strong.
By contrast, private sector unions have been patronized and ignored, in part because the industries they work in have fallen out of favor with legislative priorities. For example, the AFL-CIO affiliate International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local #300 representing Vermont Yankee workers spent decades fighting the State of Vermont’s efforts to close Vermont’s largest manufacturer of low-cost, low carbon electricity.
It failed. The Vermont Senate in 2010 denied VY a state permit to operate past 2012. Senate Pro Tem and then Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, used his considerable influence to prevent the signing of a power purchase deal between VY and Vermont utilities. The lack of a strong purchase agreement forced the plant to sell power on the open market, where prices had been driven prohibitively low by the emergence of cheap “fracked” natural gas electricity. Vermont utilities, with State of Vermont approval, signed power purchases with a New Hampshire nuclear power plant.
Friday’s Labor Day Weekend press release left no doubt the VT AFL-CIO has tired of its unresponsive Democratic “partner” and has taken up with the smaller, but more enthusiastic Progressive Party. “This unprecedented General Election move highlights an emerging solidarity and coordination between the Vermont AFL-CIO and the Vermont Progressive Party on the Vermont Left,” the release from the union’s executive board said. “Never before has the State Labor Council backed the entire Progressive Party slate…In past election cycles…. the State Labor Council often would issue endorsements for 60-100+ Democratic Party candidates for the VT General Assembly.”
This year the AFL-CIO endorsed only a chosen few Democrats: “nine Democratic Party House & Senate labor champions (all of which are members of the pro-Union Workers’ Caucus): Emilie Kornheiser (For VT House), Mari Cordes (For VT House), Kevin “Coach” Christie (For VT House), Chip Troiano (For VT House), Peter Anthony (For VT House), Kari Dolan (For VT House), Mary Howard (For VT House), Bob Hooper (For VT House), Andrew Perchik (For VT Senate). Most of these candidates have such left-leaning voting records that reporters often double-check their Democratic Party affiliation on the state’s legislative website.
Driving this train bound for socialist glory is Dave Van Deusen of Cabot. He’s quoted in the 9/4 press release: “As we continue to struggle through the pandemic, the continuing economic crisis, systemic racism, attacks on the working class, and a rise of neo-fascism on the national stage, it is clear that politics-as-usual is insufficient in addressing the dire challenges that we are facing. We cannot mitigate a new economic depression through more austerity and cuts. Rather we must seek bold systemic solutions both to racism and economic hardships. The Vermont Progressive Party has time and again been a reliable ally in this fight. We know that with a strong Progressive presence in the Vermont General Assembly, with Progressive David Zuckerman as our next Governor, we will be well-positioned to implement a Union-led Green New Deal.”
Who is Dave Van Deusen? His Facebook page says he studied at Goddard College from 1999-2002 and describes him as a “Writer, Whiskey Drinker, Harley Rider.” It’s the writer part that has elicited some interest from the Vermont media. Van Deusen has a lengthy writing career as an anarchist and supporter of Antifa. A compendium of his works, entitled “Anarchist, Socialist, and anti-Fascist writings of David Van Deusen, 1995-2018” appears on “The Anarchist Library” website.
His writings are not the sophomoric scribblings of an immature adult who later wised up. They are serious arguments based on his interpretation of historical events unknown to most Americans. Nor are they ancient history: in fall 2018 he backed Antifa’s role in the runup to the 2018 mid-term elections.
In a 2018 article entitled “Pipe Bombs From The Right — Antifa Mans The Wall,” Van Deusen says that Antifa and Antifa only stands between America and street level fascists:
In response we, the Left, and specifically the Labor Movement, need to build a powerful & militant political force which is steadfast in its resistance to the rise of Fascism….So while we may desire a Democratic victory in November, if for no other reason than to blacken the eye of the more reactionary Republican Party, do not expect any wave of change. But do expect street level Fascists to continue to escalate their attacks on the Left. And what will stand between them and a very disturbing future will remain Antifa.” He concludes with this footer: “SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL ANTIFA BRIGADES.
Clearly Van Deusen doesn’t waste time with the specious, oft-heard argument that “Antifa doesn’t exist.” Nor would he limit Antifa street violence to big cities in other states. Under the “right” circumstances, it could and should happen here in Vermont, he says.
On August 24 Van Deusen told Vermont Daily via email: “The United States is not monolithic. The situation in Portland, Seattle, Chicago, and Detroit is very different from that in Vermont. In my view people have an inalienable right to self defense (be it on the picket line or in their communities)…..If we had a situation whereby a political figure, such as the President of the United States, refused to honor the outcome of a democratic election and refused to relinquish power, all bets would be off. Under such a scenario not only would force be justified, it would become a moral imperative.”
And bear this in mind — Van Deusen does not support gun control. He likens himself and fellow anarchists to Ethan Allen who were willing to take up arms to oppose the oppressive British Empire. “And until and unless history comes to an end it would be utopian and childish to think that there will not be times when force is again required to defend democratic movements or institutions against those who would rather rule by decree.”
Read more of Guy Page’s reports. Vermont Daily is sponsored by True North Media.