At a rally in Pittsburgh, PA, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders brought his message of political revolution and truth about free trade to a rocking Steel City crowd.
When I came to Congress in the 1990s, I didn’t need a Ph.D. to understand that these trade policies were written by corporate America for one very simple purpose. And that purpose was to not have to pay workers in this country a living wage. The purpose of these trade agreements was to enable them to shut down factories in Pennsylvania, in Vermont, and all over this country, and move to low wage countries where they pay people pennies an hour and don’t have to deal with unions and obey environmental regulations. That was the purpose of those trade agreements, and that is exactly what’s happened over the last thirty years.
We have lost since 2001 almost 60,000 factories in this country, and millions of decent paying jobs. There was once a time when people could get a job in manufacturing earn good wages, good healthcare, decent pensions. Those jobs increasingly are gone, and the new jobs are McDonalds and Burger King.
Sen. Sanders listed some of the factory relocations that have hurt Pennsylvania workers including a 2013 General Electric move of a locomotive plant from Erie, PA to Mexico, Allegheny Technologies which killed 600 jobs by moving two steel plants in Western PA to China, Hershey who killed 300 jobs by moving their York Peppermint Patties plant from Reading, PA to Mexico, and Sony’s closure of the television manufacturing plant in the United States which killed 560 jobs by moving to Mexico.
Sen. Sanders thinks that he has found a potent issue that will strike a chord with Democratic voters in Pennsylvania. His problem in the Keystone State is that Pennsylvania has long been Clinton Country. Hillary Clinton beat President Obama in the 2008 primary 55%-45%. Clinton absolutely dominated Obama in rural and Western Pennsylvania, and Bernie Sanders is going to face the same difficult task of winning the state’s more moderate Democrats in 2016.
However, history shows that if Sanders does become the nominee, the results of the primary are not a good predictor of the state’s general election support for Democratic presidential candidates. Pennsylvania could be tough territory for Bernie Sanders, but his message on free trade should resonate well especially in Western Pennsylvania where trade agreements have completely devastated the manufacturing sector, and the service, education, and health sectors into major employers.
Sanders may have found the right message for the state, but it remains to be seen whether his message can sway the strong positive feelings that many of the state’s Democrats hold for Hillary Clinton.