Former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told hundreds of low-wage federal contract employees today that they are justified in their demands for better jobs and better wages from president-elect Donald Trump.
“Brothers and sisters, this is the United States of America, this is the wealthiest country in the world,” he said. “It is not a radical idea to say that if you work 40 hours a week, you should not be living in poverty. It is not a radical idea to say that the United States should join every other industrialized country and guarantee healthcare to all people as a right. It is not a radical idea that in America we join the rest of the world with paid family and medical leave.”
Sanders was joined by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), union leader Larry Cohen and actor Danny Glover.
The workers gathered in Freedom Plaza in Washington for a massive strike aimed at holding Trump accountable for pledges he has made to create well-paying jobs and prevent companies from shipping jobs overseas.
Sanders praised the workers for their ongoing effort at working toward a $15 an hour federal minimum wage, and credited their quest for the successful $15 minimum wage in several states and cities that have adopted it so far.
“You have made history,” he bellowed. “Five years ago if anybody in America said that if folks would be talking and cities would be passing a $15 an hour minimum wage, people would have said you’re crazy, it can’t be done. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, how dare you ask for a $15 minimum wage and a union, but you did it!”
During his unsuccessful run, Sanders had at one point advocated for a $15 federal minimum wage. While that race may have ended, the tone of the 75-year old senator on Wednesday mirrored that of the economic populist message heard during the campaign.
With the sight of the Trump International Hotel clock tower looming in the background, Sanders declared that his message to the next president was that “when millions of us join together we are going to win, and nobody is going to stop us.”
As the crowd chanted “good jobs, better wages” and waved American flags, Ellison, who is running to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee, passionately told the crowd that he was proud of their activism and that ““If we have to sit in, we’ll sit in. If we have to get arrested, we’ll get arrested.
“Activism works. Being in the street works. Standing up, raising your voice works. Making sure you fight back works. And in this moment when we’re dealing with Trump over there and we’re over there in the minority in the House and the Senate, the most important thing we can do is fight back, because fighting back works,” he said.
Cohen, the former president of the Communications Workers of America union and an adviser to Sanders during the campaign, told the crowd it is important to hold Trump “to his words, even if they are not his word.”
“We look the same today, because on the inside we are the same,” he said. “We are the defenders of good jobs, whether it’s serving food in the Capitol or anywhere else, or whether it’s being interpreters in our courts, or whether it’s call center workers or flight attendants, we are defending our jobs wherever we are in this country.”
For the moment, Trump has taken the first step in sticking to his promise, scoring a deal with the airplane manufacturer Carrier last week that will keep 1,000 jobs in Indiana, according to Politico. But whether that deal will be followed by an economy-wide policy on employment and wages is unknown.
“We are sick and tired of politicians that say one thing before they’re elected and act in a totally different way once they’re in office,” Cohen said.