Bernie Sanders talks unions, income inequality, and health care at campaign rally in Oakland | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Bernie Sanders talks unions, income inequality, and health care at campaign rally in Oakland

Though he initially came to Pittsburgh to discuss labor rights and health care, 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders ended up touching on several other progressive issues in front of an enthusiastic crowd of thousands Sunday evening.

Sanders made a stop at Schenley Plaza in Oakland as part of a tour of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, all swing states that  went to Trump in 2016.

When Sanders came to the podium, he began his speech by heavily criticizing the current president for going back on several of his campaign promises, including guaranteeing affordable health care for all. Instead, Trump has proposed budget cuts to social security and medicaid and reviving pre-existing condition discrimination.
“Instead of guaranteeing health care to everybody, he supported legislation that would throw 32 million Americans off the health care they already have,” he said. “We say to him, throwing 32 million people off health care is not standing up working families, it is betraying them.”

Sanders also criticized Trump for not doing more to stand up to Wall Street, and keeping jobs on American soil as he promised. He called on Trump to abandon his new NAFTA agreement, which he argued will allow corporations to continue outsourcing jobs to Mexico.

“I challenge him, for once in your life, to keep a campaign promise,” said Sanders.

Sanders spoke frequently about economic inequality, decrying the high rate of childhood poverty, about how many workers cannot afford childcare, and how low wages have led to vacancies in many professions. He spoke about how certain inconveniences in a poor person’s life, such as a car breaking down or a family member getting sick, can bankrupt them.

“Over half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. I grew up in a family who lived paycheck to paycheck, i know what that is about.” he said. “This is the richest country in the history of the world, millions and millions of people should not be finding themselves in desperate economic conditions.”

Sanders also spoke about how young people are expected to have a lower standard living compared to their parents for the first time in American history.

“I have four children and seven grandkids, downward mobility is not acceptable to me, and it is not acceptable to the American people,” he said.

Sanders also touched on the election reform, calling to for a move toward public funding of elections as opposed to private donations as well as an end to voter suppression tactics.

“It really galls me that you have Republican governors and an Attorney General who are so afraid of free and fair elections that the only way they think they can win is by making it harder for people of color to vote, for poor people to vote, for young people to vote,” Sanders said. “If you don’t have the guts to participate in free and open elections, get the hell out of politics and get a new job.”

Several people spoke prior to Sanders’ speech, with supporters waving “Bernie 2020” signs and shouting encouragement throughout. Several union activists, including Kim Garrett, a representative of Pitt’s graduate student unionization effort and Nila Payton, a representative of UPMC hospital workers’ unionization effort, spoke about their efforts and lauded Sanders’ support of unions.
Al Hart, an activist with the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, described Sanders as a longtime supporter of unions. He lauded Sanders for publicizing UE local 506’s struggle to maintain an existing collective bargaining agreement with GE Transportation as it merged with Wabtec earlier this year.

“Bernie made a strike in lil ol’ Erie a national cause,” Hart said. “Bernie doesn’t talk about being a supporter of labor, he does it...I’ve never seen a candidate in my lifetime more pro working class than him.”

The co-chairs of the Sanders campaign, San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, both described Sanders as being a lifelong activist who supports issues for moral and personal reasons, not because it’s what will win him votes. Turner discussed Sanders’ background, including how he grew up with an immigrant father, lived in rent-controlled housing, and was a first-generation college student.

“He has a lived experience that ‘hashtag the struggle’ is sure enough real,” she said. “We are going to win this, not by the might of corporate interest but by the might of people power.”
Sanders also called for making it easier for workers to join unions, and applauded graduate students and faculty at Pitt for trying to unionize.

“Pitt is a great academic institution but I say to them, your greatness lies not only in your research and in what you teach but in how you treat your employees,” he said. “Sit down and negotiate with your workers!”

Sanders touched on several other topics during the rally, including calling for the legalization of marijuana and reproductive rights, an end to super PACs and the war on drugs, and more action in fighting against climate change.

“The ideas we talked about four years ago that seemed so very radical at that time, today virtually all those ideas are supported by a majority of the American people and they are ideas that Democratic candidates from school board to President of the United States support,” he said.