As San­ders backs union push in Miss., Democrats draft pop­ulist agenda

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY DAVID WEIGEL david.weigel@wash­post.com

On Satur­day, work­ers in the mid­dle of a union drive at a Nis­san plant in Can­ton, Miss., stopped to hear from a spe­cial guest: Sen. Bernie San­ders. The one­time pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, now the Demo­cratic cau­cus’s point man on po­lit­i­cal out­reach, came to the “March on Mis­sis­sippi” both to help the United Auto Work­ers’ cam­paign and to send a mes­sage about what op­po­nents of Pres­i­dent Trump should be do­ing.

“What I’m go­ing to be say­ing is that the facts are very clear, that work­ers in Amer­ica who are mem­bers of unions earn sub­stan­tially more, 27 per­cent more, than work­ers not in unions,” San­ders (I-Vt.) said in an in­ter­view be­fore the speech. “They get pen­sions and bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions. I find it very re­mark­able that Nis­san is al­low­ing unions to form at its plants all over the world. Well, if they can be or­ga­nized ev­ery­where else, they can be or­ga­nized in Mis­sis­sippi.”

In a state­ment, new Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair and former la­bor sec­re­tary Thomas Perez lent his sup­port to the rally and the union drive.

“The Nis­san work­ers in Can­ton de­serve to go to work ev­ery­day with­out risk­ing their lives,” Perez said. “They de­serve to earn a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. And they de­serve the op­por­tu­nity to stand up for their rights with­out fear of ret­ri­bu­tion. But since that’s too much to ask from Don­ald Trump and the Repub­li­cans who cur­rently con­trol Mis­sis­sippi, Democrats will stand with the work­ers.”

The Mis­sis­sippi march, or­ga­nized by the UAW and joined by the NAACP and the Sierra Club, comes as Democrats are rein­tro­duc­ing them­selves to vot­ers who drifted to­ward Trump’s pop­ulism last year. Rein­vig­o­rated by the pres­i­dent’s po­lit­i­cal prob­lems and by an agenda that has drifted closer to tra­di­tional Repub­li­can eco­nom­ics, they’re iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves more closely with lib­eral poli­cies and la­bor or­ga­niz­ers.

“Some of the poor­est states in this coun­try, where large num­bers of peo­ple have no health in­sur­ance and have ex­pe­ri­enced stag­nat­ing wages, have not had the sup­port from pro­gres­sives that they need,” San­ders said. “It’s time we change that. It means stand­ing up for work­ing men and women.”

On Fri­day morn­ing, Sen. Sher­rod Brown (D-Ohio) de­liv­ered a speech at Ohio State Univer­sity about how “dig­nity comes from work,” ar­gu­ing for an agenda that would boost wages and of­fer more fam­ily leave.

“Pop­ulism is for the peo­ple — not th­ese peo­ple, not those peo­ple, but all peo­ple,” Brown said. “Pop­ulism is not about who it ex­cludes but about who it em­braces . . . . The value of work is not about the color of your skin. It’s not a blue-col­lar is­sue, it’s not a white-col­lar is­sue, it’s not a lib­eral is­sue, it’s not a con­ser­va­tive is­sue.”

Brown’s ideas, pack­aged in a 77-page re­port ti­tled “Work­ing Too Hard for Too Lit­tle,” mir­ror much of what San­ders ran on in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial pri­mary — and much of what Hil­lary Clin­ton adopted for the gen­eral elec­tion. Some ideas go fur­ther.

Like San­ders, Brown ar­gues for a $15 min­i­mum wage, in sync with the cam­paign waged by the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union. Like Clin­ton, he pitches 12 weeks of paid fam­ily and med­i­cal leave. Brown, who was also one of the first sen­a­tors to sug­gest ex­pand­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity pay­ments by rais­ing Fed­eral In­sur­ance Con­tri­bu­tions Act, or FICA, taxes, also sug­gests stan­dard­ized over­time pay for work­ers mak­ing less than $47,476 and a crack­down on pay­ing work­ers as con­trac­tors to avoid giv­ing them ben­e­fits pack­ages.

“I can hear the com­plaints com­ing from the cor­po­rate board­room,” Brown said. “‘Th­ese ideas cost too much.’ ‘We’ll have to raise prices.’ ‘We’ll have to lay off work­ers.’ It’s funny, though, they never say that when they re­ward mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar cor­po­rate bonuses.”

Like San­ders, Brown is up for re­elec­tion in 2018. Un­like San­ders, he rep­re­sents a state that broke solidly for Trump in 2016 af­ter twice vot­ing for Barack Obama, and he has al­ready drawn an op­po­nent in Josh Man­del, the Repub­li­can state trea­surer seek­ing a re­match of their 2012 race.

The first step to re­gain­ing po­lit­i­cal power, as seen by Brown and other Democrats, is hold­ing and win­ning back the blue-col­lar vot­ers who re­jected Clin­ton in 2016 af­ter years of vot­ing Demo­cratic. They see ap­petite for the Trump­cen­tric and personality-fo­cused cam­paign that failed Clin­ton in the Mid­west.

At this week’s speech by Trump be­fore a joint ses­sion of Congress, Sen. Tammy Bald­win (D-Wis.) brought a guest who high­lighted her cam­paign for “Buy Amer­i­can” steel poli­cies, high­light­ing a Trump pledge that has proved hard to ful­fill. And in a video mes­sage re­leased while sen­a­tors were head­ing home for the week­end, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), also up for 2018 re­elec­tion, pitched his plan for a five-year ban on former sen­a­tors or mem­bers of the ex­ec­u­tive branch be­com­ing lob­by­ists af­ter they leave of­fice — an­other one-up on a Trump pitch.

“Af­ter I’m done serv­ing Mon­tana, I know what I’m go­ing to do — I’m still go­ing to be a farmer,” Tester says in the video. “But un­for­tu­nately, many of my former col­leagues be­come lob­by­ists.”

Lit­tle of that has cut through in a week dom­i­nated by Trump’s speech and by ques­tions about whether At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions mis­led the Se­nate about 2016 con­ver­sa­tions with Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to the United States.

The Can­ton rally and march, San­ders said, pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to fo­cus on some­thing con­crete — some­thing that Repub­li­cans, who now dom­i­nate Mis­sis­sippi and have stopped union­iza­tion cam­paigns in other South­ern states, were al­ready dug in on.

“Th­ese work­ers are in­cred­i­bly coura­geous,” San­ders said. “One thing we al­ready know is that work­ers who have stood up for their rights are be­ing ha­rassed, are be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against and are be­ing lec­tured about the so-called per­ils of trade union­ism. There’s a mas­sive anti-union ef­fort go­ing on, and th­ese guys are stand­ing out their own. They de­serve our sup­port.”

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