Remarks in a Meeting with Steelworkers in Des Moines, Iowa
AUDIENCE: Bernie! Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!
SANDERS: Thank you.
Well, let me -- let begin by thanking you for inviting me to be with you today, thanking Steve for his introduction, and most of all, thanking the steelworkers for their long, long support of what I've been trying to do throughout my entire political career.
I don't get any money and I don't want any money from corporations. Never got a nickel. [applause]
Don't want any money from the billionaire class. [applause]
But I am very grateful for the support that I've received from the steelworkers throughout my entire political career. Thank you, guys, very, very much. [applause]
When I went to college, I studied some economics, but the real economic lesson that I learned was when I was a kid. I grew up in a home where my dad had come from Poland at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket. Never made much money. Mother graduated high school. I lived in a three-and-a-half room rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, New York, and we lived not poor, but our family lived on the financial stress as is the case with millions and millions of families in our country today.
So the major economics lesson that I have had in my life was not in high school and not in college, it was as a kid understanding what financial stress does to a family, understanding that every decision that is made has got to be thought about, whether you can afford to do this or whether you can afford to do that. And that, brothers and sisters, is a lesson I have never forgotten and I never will forget. [applause]
You know, one of the reasons I think our campaign is doing well is because we try to talk about the real issues impacting the American people. Don't do necessarily do what the media wants us to do, but talk about real issues.
Just turned out yesterday -- just happened. We were in Iowa Falls, had a few hundred people out to a meeting. And I kind of opened up the discussion to ask people what was going on in their lives, what was going on in their lives in terms of trying to make it on $12,000, $13,000 a year Social Security. And suddenly what was it like in their lives if you can't afford the prescription drugs that you need. And I want to thank the nurses, our sisters and brothers; are there nurses here? [applause] Who know these issues, who know what it means to be treating patients who can't afford prescriptions. And I opened it up, the discussion. One woman gets up there and says the medicine her family need -- I think it was her husband needed -- shot way up, shot way up to an outrageous price. And we all know that tomorrow, if you walk into a drug store to refill your prescription, the price could be double or triple than what was paid today. Some of you have that experience, right? Because the pharmaceutical industry is ripping off the American people. [applause]
So people talk -- we don't have a lot of money. The cost of prescription drugs goes way up. Then another woman says -- you know, I was using the point -- making the point, millions of people in this country -- we don't talk about it terribly much -- trying to get by on $12,000, $13,000 a year on Social Security. You do the arithmetic. Tell me how you pay for health care. Tell me how you pay for prescription drugs. How do you heat your home. How do you buy the food you need on $12,000 or $13,000 a year? And the answer is exactly right, you don't. You don't. [applause]
And then we got Republicans going around the country lying, as they occasionally do...[laughter]...and they're saying Social Security is going broke. We have to cut Social Security benefits.
SANDERS: Now, just stop and think about it. Forget politics. Tell me how somebody can go around the country when we know that millions of people -- seniors, disabled vets, people with disabilities, people who can't make it on $1,000, $13,000 a year, and they're talking about cutting Social Security benefits.
There's a thing that a lot of people have not heard of. It's called the chain CPI. Anybody know what the chain CPI is? It's a fancy term from Washington to cut Social Security benefits, and it argues, the theory behind it is that the COLAs, the cost-of-living adjustments that seniors are getting today are too generous. Does anybody here know what seniors got in their COLA last year?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Zero!
SANDERS: Zero! Too generous. Got to cut it. Anyhow, at Iowa Falls we heard from people who told us no, I'm not getting $12,000, $13,000 a year, I'm trying to live on $10,000 a year.
And then we heard another woman talk about what it means to have minimum wage jobs and how difficult it is to survive. And that is the reality for millions and millions of people in this country. It's a reality we don't talk enough about and it's certainly a reality that we are not effectively addressing.
Now, here's the story. If we were a poor country -- and there are poor countries around the world -- you have a certain type of discussion. And you say, you know, it's unfortunate that we have to live in poverty, but that's who we are. We're a poor country. We can't have good education, we can't have good health care, we can't have decent paying jobs. We're a poor country.
But the truth is, as everybody here knows, the United States of America is not a poor country. We are the wealthiest country in the history of the world. But -- but most people don't know that because almost all of the new wealth and income is going to the top 1 percent.
And brothers and sisters, what a Sanders administration is about is a very radical idea. You ready for a radical idea? We're going to create an economy that works for working families, not just billionaires. [applause]
And not only that. In the last 30 years, as everybody in this room knows, technology has exploded. Almost every worker in America is more productive than he or she was 20 years, 30 years ago, right? You're producing more.
Question. If you are more productive, if we are producing more, why are millions of people working longer hours for lower wages?
SANDERS: Why is almost all new income and wealth going to a small number of people?
SANDERS: You guys are a smart group here. All right. and that's what we're going to deal with. So we are going to tell billionaires who pay an effective tax rate lower than many of you do, we're going to tell large multi-national corporations who make billions of dollars a year in profit and stash their money in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda and in a given year may pay zero in federal income taxes, we're going to tell them that it is time for them to accept their responsibility as Americans to start paying their fair share of taxes. [applause]
And when we eliminate the Cayman Islands loophole and when we raise a trillion dollars in new revenue, you know what we're going to do with that? We're going to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create millions of decent paying jobs. [applause]
This is the United States of America, the greatest country on the face of the Earth. You tell me why our roads, our bridges, our water systems, our waste water plants, our levees, our dams, our airports, our rail system are deteriorating or crumbling?
AUDIENCE: Republicans! [laughter]
SANDERS: All right. We need to invest in a $1 trillion investment, which I believe we should make, creates 13 million decent paying jobs. [applause]
Including a lot of good steelworker jobs. [applause]
Now, every person in this room -- because of the steelworkers or one of the great unions in our country, you understand the history of the trade union movement. And you understand that change, real change, never comes from the top on down. It always comes from the bottom on up. [applause]
And you understand that way back when employers did not say, "Well, you know, I think it's a great idea for workers to have a union. We'd love to sit down and do some collective bargaining with you because we think that's fair and that's right." That's not the way it happened.
The way it happened is way back when, workers went on strike, workers fought and workers died, workers were beaten, workers were fired from their jobs in order to make sure that working people could organize, could engage in collective bargaining, could sit down at a table and fight for decent wages and decent working conditions.
That's the history of the trade union movement and we should be proud of that. But what all of you know is that over the last several decades, despite the fact that millions of workers want to join a union, it has become harder and harder for workers to in fact create unions, to become members of unions.
You know and I know that employers have acted illegally with the support of the NLRB so that if workers tried to organize, the organizers there would be fired, and if by some miracle people actually did organize a union, employers would refuse to engage in a first contract, collective bargaining, [inaudible]. And that is why I believe that the middle class does not grow unless the trade union movement grows. [applause]
The middle class does not prosper unless workers are engaged in strong collective bargaining. Now... [applause]
Now, what a lot of people -- what a lot of non-union people don't understand is that to the degree they get anywhere near decent wages -- decent wages, it has a lot to do with the success of the trade union movement because you're driving wages up. [applause]
In any case, after decades of illegal action on the part of employers, it seems to me we have got to make it easier, not harder for workers to join unions. That's why we have introduced a new FCOP piece of legislation, and it says very simply that if 50 percent of workers in a unit plus one sign a card saying they want to be in a union, they will have a union. [applause]
Here's the truth. Here's the truth. Not going to tell you that every worker in America wants to join a union, but what I will tell you is that millions of them do. Millions of them understand that workers who have a union get better wages, better working conditions and better benefits. And our job is to say that the American people must be able to exercise their constitutional right to organize unions without illegal impediments on the part of employers, and that is what I intend to do. [applause]
I mentioned earlier that there are millions of seniors and disabled veterans in this country. And by the way, as the former chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, let me thank all of the men and women in this room and in this country for their service to our country. [applause]
For their putting their lives on the line to defend this country. And here's a promise I make, is that we will do our best, absolute best, and there should not be any debate about this whether you're a conservative, progressive, Democrat or Republican. When people put their lives on the line to defend this country and they come home, they are going to get the best health care available. They're going to get the benefits that they earned. [applause]
But here's the difference that Secretary Clinton and I have on a very important issue. I believe that when millions of seniors and disabled vets are struggling to get by on $12,000 or $13,000 a year, it is not good enough to say -- and I've led the effort on this, that we're not going to cut Social Security. That is an abomination. What we must do is say, "Of course we're not going to cut Social Security, but we are going to expand Social Security benefits." [applause]
And here is how we are going to do it. It is not complicated. Right now, somebody makes $5 million a year, somebody makes $118,000 a year, they both contribute the same amount into the Social Security trust fund.
If you lift that cap and you start at $250,000 and above, top 1.5 percent of the American people, what we can do is increase Social Security benefits for those now living under $16,000 a year by $1,300 a year. That's not insignificant for people who are struggling. [applause]
And when we do that, we also extend the life of Social Security from 19 years to 50 years. Now, that is my view. I think -- I think that at a time of massive income and wealth inequality, when the wealthy are getting much wealthier, you know what? I think it is just appropriate, just right to lift that cap, and ask the wealthiest people in this country to make sure that all seniors can live in dignity. [applause]
That is my view, if Secretary Clinton drops in, ask her her view. I don't think she agrees.
Now, when we talk -- and Steve raised this issue. When we talk about why it is that the great middle class of this country is disappearing, why it is that we have 47 million people living in poverty, why it is that we have massive wealth and income inequality, one of the important reasons is our disastrous trade policies. [applause] You are looking at a former United States congressman. I represented Vermont in the Congress for 16 years, and a senator today. You are looking at a member of the Senate, who in his life, voted against NAFTA, against CAFTA, against PNTR with China. [applause]
And by the way, is helping to lead the opposition to the TPP. Now... [applause]
Look -- look, everybody in this room understands what these disastrous trade agreements are about. You all know who wrote these trade agreements. Not complicated.
The steelworkers did not write these trade agreements. They are written by corporate America to benefit corporate America, people who could care less about what these trade agreements did to working families.
Here's what they've done. Since 2001 in America, we have lost 60,000 factories. Got that? In my state, in Iowa, all across this country -- 60,000 factories. Not all of that, to be fair, is attributable to trade. There are other reasons why factories shut down, but a lot of it is attributable to trade. And when you lose 60,000 factories, many of them attributable to disastrous trade agreements, you're talking about the loss of millions of good-paying American jobs. [applause]
Everybody knows what the purpose of these trade agreements were supposed to do. They did exactly what corporate America wanted them to do -- what they were designed to do is to say, why should we pay workers in the United States $20, $25, $30 an hour, provide decent benefits, negotiate with unions, protect the environment, why would any corporation want to do that when they could shut down in America, throw people out on the street, move to China, move to Mexico, move to low-wage countries, pay people pennies an hour, not have to worry about the environment, not have to do deal with unions and then they can bring their products right back in this country?
SANDERS: The simple truth is, and it's indisputable, these trade agreements have been a disaster for working families in this country. They have benefited the CEOs of large multinational corporations. No one can deny that reality.
I am proud to tell you that way back when I was on the picket line in opposition to NAFTA and helped lead the opposition against all of these trade agreements. But I got to tell you also, these trade agreements have been supported not just by Republicans but by some Democrats as well. We've got to acknowledge that.
Where we are today is to say that when our country is de- industrializing -- do you know what I mean by that? What I mean, you tell me how are we a great nation if we're not purchasing the products that we need that are made in our country? Can you be a great country? Can you be a great country where everything you buy is made in China? I don't think so. I don't think so.
And by the way -- this is another important point to be made. It is not only the loss of jobs, it is what we call the race to the bottom. So here's what's going on. People are saying -- and this is a good thing -- people are saying, well, you know what? We're seeing an uptick in manufacturing in America. Good. Take a look at the wages that those new manufacturing jobs are paying.
There was once a time when manufacturing jobs, unionized manufacturing jobs, were the gold standard for the working class of this country. You had a good job in a manufacturing plant, you had a union, you were making middle-class wages and middle-class benefits. But then -- I'll tell you a story. A couple years ago in Louisville, Kentucky, General Electric announced that they were expanding their manufacturing capabilities, creating a couple hundred jobs. Some people were very excited about it. And they asked this guy from GE, they said, why are you doing this? He said, well, it turns out that if you add all of the these things together, transportation costs and the fact that wages in America have gone down, it is actually more competitive to do manufacturing in America now than in China because wages have gone down so much. So they're paying people in manufacturing $10, $12 an hour.
Now, if manufacturing workers are getting paid $10, $12 an hour, what do you think other workers are going to be getting? This is the race to the bottom, what they have always wanted. Not to bring Chinese wages up to where we were, it's to bring our wages down to where Chinese wages were. [applause]
So this TPP; they want us to support the TPP. They want our people to compete against workers in Vietnam. I have nothing against workers in Vietnam. I was there, they work very hard. Minimum wage in Vietnam is 65 cents an hour. I do not want American workers to have to compete against people who are making 65 cents an hour. [applause]
So we have to take a deep breath. We have to understand that our trade policies have failed and we have to begin an entirely new set of policies. And the bottom line for me is that every major corporation in America wants all of us to buy their products. Can't turn on the TV, buy this, buy that, buy that. Well, if they want us to buy their products, they damn well better start manufacturing those products back in the United States and not in China. [applause]
Let me touch on another important issue and I'm glad our brothers and sisters from the nurses union -- and we thank you so much for your support. [applause]
The reason that the nurses are supporting our campaign is that these are serious people who want to be able to do their job as well as they can. All right. Thank you job is to prevent disease. Their job is to take care of people who are sick. But right now they and many, many other people in the health care profession are unable to do the job that they were trained to do.
Now, I think the Affordable Care Act has made some important steps forward and one important step forward that we are not going to allow to go forward is the so-called Cadillac Tax. We have delayed that and we will continue to push that back. Workers who gave up wage increases and other benefits for decent health care should not be penalized for those sacrifices. [applause]
But the Affordable Care Act, which I voted for and strongly supported, did a couple -- number of good things. It did away with this obscenity called pre-existing conditions. You all know what that is? [applause]
This private insurance obscenity which said if you had a disease years ago, they would not cover you for the disease that you needed coverage for. It's like getting fire insurance except that if you have a fire, then they don't pay. We got rid of that.
We have expanded health insurance to some 17 million Americans. We have made it fairer for women who are forced to pay higher rates than they should have for the crime of being a woman. So we kind of eliminated that. But having said that, here's the reality of health care today. And what our campaign is about is asking the American people to think big, not small. Here we are.
The United States of America today is the only major country on earth -- the only one, that doesn't guarantee health care to all people as a right. They do it in England. They do it in France, do it in Germany, do it all over Scandinavia. I live 50 miles away from the Canadian border, they do it.
Every major country does it. In America today, 29 million people today have no health insurance at all. Millions more have high deductibles and high co-payments. Sound familiar? OK. And by the way, we pay by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
At a time when one in five Americans are unable to afford the prescription drugs their doctors are prescribing, at a time when seniors are cutting their pills in half because they can't afford to buy what they need, the three major drug companies in America last year made $45 billion in profit.
And because they are so powerful, because they provide hundreds of millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions, because they have 1,400 lobbyists in Washington, D.C., there is no legislation on the books to prevent them from doubling, tripling, quadrupling the price you pay for medicine. They are getting away with murder and in some cases, they are committing murder. [applause]
We hear from oncologists who are hearing from cancer patients and they're telling us our cancer patients can't afford the medicine that they need. We are dealing in some cases with folks who have Hepatitis C. A new drug, a very effective drug out, do you know what that costs? A thousand dollars a pill.
What we have got to tell the pharmaceutical industry -- now, let me back up and tell you a story for a minute. Late 1990s, when I represented Vermont in the Congress, I took a bus load of women from northern Vermont over the Canadian border to Montreal.
And the reason we went is that I knew is that prescription drugs in Canada were much less expensive. Women who were dealing with breast cancer, working class women, walked into the pharmacy. They purchased the breast cancer medicine that they needed -- this is not generic, brand name medicine for one-tenth the price they're paying in the United States.
I was the first member of Congress to do that. Others followed. Now millions of people, by the way, get their medicine from Canada. We should not have to get medicine from Canada. Pharmaceutical industry has got to stop ripping us off. [applause]
Now, when you got 29 million uninsured, even more underinsured, when we're paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, it turns out that we are spending per person in health care almost three times more than they do in the United Kingdom where they guarantee health care to all of their people. We are spending 50 percent more than the French who guarantee health care to all of their people, much more than the Canadians who guarantee all of -- health care to all of their people.
It seems to me that the time is now for us to say loudly and clearly that in the United States of America, health care is a right for all people. [applause]
And we are going to pass a Medicare for all single payer programs. [applause]
And when we do that -- when we do that, not only do we make the nurses and the doctors' jobs easier, because they're going to be able to treat everybody in a comprehensive way, we're going to save the middle class many thousands of dollars a year on health care costs. [applause]
We began our campaign for the presidency of the United States nine months ago, and when we began it, I think we were at three, four percent in the polls. We didn't have any money. We didn't have any organization, and frankly, not so many people outside of Vermont knew who Bernie Sanders was. But the message that we have been bringing forth to the American people, a message which says that the economy today is rigged, that it benefits the wealthy and the powerful at the expense of everybody else, that the campaign finance system that exists today is corrupt and undermining American democracy... [applause]
That message is resonating all across this country. And here we are in Iowa, and one week from yesterday there will be the first caucus in the country. I believe that we have an excellent chance to win that caucus if -- and here is the if. If we have a large voter turnout. [applause]
It is going to be a very, very close election, but I believe that if working people want to be part of a campaign which says enough is enough, our government has got to represent all of us and not a handful of campaign contributors, if those people come out and vote, we will win and we'll win big. [applause]
Let me also say this. Let me also say this. This campaign is different from other campaigns, not just because of the fact that I am perhaps the most progressive member of the Senate and my agenda in this campaign is the most progressive. This campaign is more than that. And that is what I say every single day and I repeat to you now from the bottom of my heart. No president, not Bernie Sanders, not anybody else, can do it alone. All right? [applause]
Now, I want to tell you a painful truth that you understand as proud trade unionists, but not all people in America understand. And that is the powers that be -- Wall Street, whose greed and recklessness and illegal behavior brought this country into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, they have endless supplies of money, endless.
In fact, somebody on Wall Street now, I think just announced is going to spend $600,000 in ads against me here in Iowa this week -- $600,000 from one guy.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Give them hell, Bernie!
SANDERS: We surely will. [applause]
So, you got the power of Wall Street. I want to remind you something about Wall Street. You know, Congress, against my vote, helped to bail them out because the banks were too big to fail. You remember that?
Well, you won't be shocked to know that three out of the four largest banks in this country are bigger today than they were when we bailed them out because they were too big to fail.
And you know what I think? When you have a handful of huge financial institutions with incredible economic and political power, maybe it is time we broke them up. [applause]
But it's not just Wall Street. You deal all of the time with corporate America, whose greed, whose unquenchable greed, they want more and more and more, and they are prepared to step on every working person in this country to get more and more and more. We got to take them on. Got to take on the corporate media that decides what we see and what we hear.
We got to take on the large campaign contributors. That's not an easy fight, and no one president alone can do it. And that is why, what this campaign is about is a political revolution. [applause]
We need trade unionists. We need millions of people to stand up and be involved in the political process in a way that we have not seen for a very, very long time. What we are fighting for, brothers and sisters, is not only for our well-being, we are fighting for our kids. We are fighting for our parents. We are fighting for the planet.
This is a fight that we cannot afford to lose. And together we will not lose.
Thank you very much. [applause]
Bernie Sanders, Remarks in a Meeting with Steelworkers in Des Moines, Iowa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/317551