The Buffalo mayoral election is finally over, and Democratic Socialist India Walton has been defeated by write-in incumbent Byron Brown. While the last of Brown’s write-in ballots are being tallied, the Walton camp finds themselves dejected after being on the cusp of greatness. To myself and many others, Walton was an inspiring candidate for the city of Buffalo, with the potential to gradually bring wealth back into the hands of Buffalo’s working class. This is opposed to Brown’s fruitless “Buffalo renaissance,” which largely submitted to wealthy urban developers. Walton led a shocking primary campaign, besting the incumbent Democrat seeking an unprecedented fifth term in office, before succumbing to the combined forces of Brown’s moderate Democrats and the Republican Party in the general election. On the national scale, Walton’s candidacy was a test of the progress made by the younger, more progressive faction of the Democratic Party. Last Tuesday, those test results came in.

I can’t help but feel disappointed in the people of Buffalo right now. When I first saw the results that night, I held a suppressed frustration with the obstinance of an aging generation of Democrats. While it can be hard to look at this failure through a constructive lens, the truth of the matter is that India Walton’s defeat was predictable. The obstacles she faced will be faced by future progressive candidates, and the root of democratic socialism’s struggle in the United States goes deeper than a fear of change felt by aging moderates. If the left wants to see candidates like Walton succeed in the future, we need to make a more successful appeal to the American working class.

We need to be targeting union voters.

Unions can be the backbone of progressive campaigns to come. More than just a source of financial campaign contribution, union members volunteer their time to phone banks and advocate door-to-door. Especially in places like the Buffalo-Niagara metropolitan area, where the rate of union membership is around 19.9 percent of the workforce, union support is essential to candidates who wish to empower workers. Despite running a more anti-corporate platform than her opponent, the Walton campaign failed to garner significant support from organized labor.

The local American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Civil Service Employees Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees all backed the incumbent of 16 years. Notable unions siding with Walton include Workers United, which represents 6,000 Buffalo workers. One explanation for why Walton’s numbers among organized labor groups were so weak is that Brown, as the sitting mayor for four terms, is simply better networked than newcomer India Walton. While this is an accurate observation, it doesn’t tell the whole story: unions, especially those in bastions of power like Buffalo, have been historically resistant to leftward political pressure.

The AFL-CIO, one of the largest and oldest union federations in the country, is one the strongest examples of blue collar labor’s cultural opposition to the left. When the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was founded as a coalition of exclusive craft unions, it excluded women, racial minorities and unskilled laborers, the latter of which formed their own union coalition: the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The CIO was not much better than the AFL in its treatment of the disempowered. Women and people of color only found regional leadership representation when they comprised a plurality of their affiliate union’s body and were systematically excluded from positions of national leadership.

Since the two groups unified in 1955, they’ve dramatically reformed their policies but still remain largely centrist when it comes to issues not directly pertaining to their primary interests. For example, the AFL-CIO creates legislative scorecards to help supporters visualize the voting records of members of Congress in terms of union friendliness. Of these legislator scorecards, progressives Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hold three of the four lowest grades for Democrats, though the lowest scores on the side of the Democrats do not go below 70 percent approval. Republicans, however, tend to have scores of 50 percent or lower. Labor unions are often mischaracterized as left-wing political monoliths, when in fact they represent a diverse body of affiliates with often conflicting interests.

Another factor in Walton’s failure to garner union support is the preexisting power structure in union stronghold cities between large labor organizations and establishment Democrats. Buffalo has a rate of union membership almost twice as high as the national average, and unions are consequently more powerful there than almost anywhere else in the country. Union leaders know backing a candidate like Walton could jeopardize a 16-year relationship with city leadership and are more comfortable with the safer endorsement of Brown. While it would take substantial persuasion from federation affiliates to sway that consensus in Walton’s favor, more could be done to push large unions to the left. The refusal of several major unions to endorse the Democratic primary victor is a major coalition building failure on behalf of the Walton campaign.

While the goals of self-proclaimed Democratic Socialists like India Walton are broader than union strengthening, worker empowerment is a central tenet of progressivism. It’s essential for future progressive candidates, with strong stances on hot-button issues such as immigration reform, climate change and police reform not to alienate the majority of their city’s workforce. This isn’t to say that we should think about sacrificing any part of our platform for the comfort of low-income workers. It’s all about promoting class consciousness and expanding what it means to be disempowered by the current system. The election results tell us that many low- to middle-income workers didn’t feel especially included in Walton’s message, which needs to change because one of the fundamental differences between India Walton and Byron Brown is class loyalties. There’s no excuse for 72.3 percent of undereducated voters to feel more heard by a man who kowtows to wealthy urban developers and gentrifies neighborhoods than by India Walton.

Unions have the potential to be a great boon to the progressive cause in New York. Labor organizations like the AFL-CIO represent the core of Buffalo’s workforce, as well as a powerful volunteer and donation resource. Next time, they should be on our side.

Jacob Wisnock is a freshman majoring in political science.