by Mark Gruenberg, Editor, Press Associates Union News
As far as his union is concerned, every single one of the raft of Republican presidential hopefuls for next year’s election are out of the running, Steelworkers President Leo Gerard says. The Democrats are another matter.
“I don’t see a Republican that’s worth talking to,” Gerard told a press conference on April 13 during the Good Jobs Green Jobs meeting in D.C. “But I’m just talking about the presidential candidates.”
Gerard and other leaders – representing unions and environmentalists in their joint Blue Green Alliance, which sponsors Good Jobs Green Jobs – called the press conference to react to Vice President Joseph Biden’s speech to the meeting minutes before (see separate story).
Gerard said the Steelworkers, who are known for their political savvy and impressive organizing around political and economic issues, will take announced presidential candidates through their normal evaluation process, he said.
An endorsed candidate could hugely benefit. The Wall Street Journal, Gerard noted later, terms the Steelworkers and their lobbying and Rapid Response teams nationwide “the 800-pound gorilla in Washington.” That, he said, was a compliment to USW’s effectiveness.
Given that, Gerard declined to comment on current Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton, who declared her candidacy in a nationwide video to supporters the day before, or any other potential Democratic hopeful for the 2016 election.
Other Democrats considering seeking the nomination are Biden, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md., and former Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., will run in the Democratic primaries if he gets in. He will decide by April 30.
Sanders got a standing ovation on April 14 from the crowded roomful of Steelworkers, in town for their union’s own Legislative/Political/Rapid Response conference as well as Good Jobs Green Jobs. Gerard praised Sanders as a down-the-line defender of unions and workers, while presenting him with USW’s rarely given Paul Wellstone Memorial Award for political activism. The award is named for the late, fantastically pro-worker Minnesota DFL senator.
“He (Wellstone) was elected, literally, from the back of the bus and was one of the strongest voices in the Senate against trade agreements that traded away our jobs,” Gerard declared. “No one in the Senate more reflects the values of Paul Wellstone than Bernie Sanders. He’s not afraid to launch a real filibuster for the values of working people.”
For his part, Sanders warned the Rapid Response delegates that while his father, a penniless immigrant, achieved the American dream for his two sons, “for our kids and grandkids, it’s out the door.” Making America work for workers is Sanders’ platform.
A stagnant minimum wage – which should increase from $7.25 hourly to $15 – the pro-corporate trade pacts without workers’ protections, lack of workers’ rights in the U.S. and the drive of corporate interests and the 1 percent to destroy workers and unions in the name of greed are big reasons for the middle class slide, the Vermonter said.
“They want to destroy the trade union movement, because the trade union movement, today and in the past, has been the strongest voice for the American working class,” Sanders declared. “If they destroy you,who is there left?” to halt their agenda, he asked (his emphasis).
Sanders’ platform, at least as he told it to the USW members, includes universal government-run health care – a cause he’s pushed for years, including unsuccessfully during passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 – and “labor law reform in which if 50 percent plus one signs the” union representation election “card, you’ve got a union.”
He also wants to invest more in new and upgraded infrastructure, to create jobs. “Our roads, levees, dams and airports all over America are crumbling. That’s why I introduced legislation to allot $1 trillion over five years to replace them” and create thousands of jobs. Unions are pushing hard for long-term infrastructure improvement plans, on that scale.
And the official jobless rate of 5.5 percent masks the real rate which – including the jobless, discouraged workers and those toiling part-time who really want full-time jobs – is double that, Sanders added.
“Real unemployment in America? 11 percent. Youth unemployment in America? 17 percent. African-American youth unemployment in America – you heard about that in Ferguson – is off the charts, more than 25 percent.
“You want to know why people are stressed out? Because the middle class is headed in one direction – down.
“That’s why we need to create real, decent, family-maintaining jobs.”
Sanders reminded the crowd of the economic disaster President Barack Obama (D) inherited when he took office on Jan. 20, 2009, at a time when the U.S. was losing 800,000 jobs a month and the official unemployment rate was headed towards a 10 percent peak.
“Are we better today than when (George W.) Bush left office? There’s no question. But we are still part of a 40-year decline in the middle class,” he explained. The typical male worker has a yearly median income $700 less than it was 42 years ago, Sanders pointed out. The typical female worker has seen her median yearly income decline by $1,300 since 2007.
“And how and why does it happen that despite increased productivity and better technology – by 50 percent – since 2001, the average worker is working longer and for lower pay? In old photos, they held up placards in schools ‘We want a 40-hour workweek.’ That was in 1905. We still want a 40-hour workweek.”