The Pitt News

Biden: Man of steel

Amy+Beaudine+%2F+Staff+Writer
Amy Beaudine / Staff Writer

Amy Beaudine / Staff Writer

Amy Beaudine / Staff Writer

By Amy Beaudine / Staff Writer

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As Vice President Joe Biden left a Downtown stage at the Pittsburgh Labor Day Parade, he stopped to acknowledge Bernie Sanders’ supporters in the crowd, giving two thumbs up.

Biden didn’t officially voice his support for Sanders, but spoke to parade attendees about the importance of the steel industry and his views on the rising cost of college tuition — a topic Sanders is known for supporting. Following Biden’s speech at 10 a.m. on Monday in front of the Greyhound bus station, the parade began at the corner of Liberty Avenue and 11th Street. Thousands of marchers led the parade through Downtown and ended outside of the United Steelworkers Building around noon.

Many attendees hoped Biden would announce the start of a presidential campaign at the event. Instead, Biden took the opportunity to talk about Pittsburgh steelworkers and his passion for strengthening the middle class.

“Build labor, we build America,” Biden said to the receptive crowd gathered around the front of the stage.

As the parade marched onward, participants shouted “Get up, get down, Pittsburgh is a union town,” and “What do we do when worker’s rights are under attack? Fight back.”

Skip Longdon, a unit president of United Steelworkers in Washington, has been with the union for 20 years.

Longdon attended the parade to show his support to fellow steelworkers, and to stand firm against Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, which is currently in gridlock with the United Steelworkers over ongoing contract negotiations about pay and healthcare benefits.

Jaimee Grinage, a union safety representative at Local 2227 United Steelworkers, said the union is helping maintain her middle class status and send her daughter to college. With her two young children and husband in tow, Grinage and her family marched and chanted with the crowd.

“The [anti-union supporters] want to criminalize us, but we’re just fighting for our jobs,” Grinage said.

Biden also spoke fervently about the increasing wealth gap in America. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center analysis, the median income of the upper class is seven times greater than the median income of the middle class — the highest it has ever been.

Biden said instead of investing in tax cuts for the wealthy, America could save billions by providing a free community college education for students in good academic standing. White House officials estimate the total cost for this would be $6 billion, which is about $4 billion less than tax cuts.

This plan is not quite the same as Sanders’ goal to eliminate undergraduate tuition at four-year public colleges and universities, but Sanders’ Pittsburgh supporters rallied for Biden anyway.

Robert Beckwith, a member of the organization Pittsburghers for Bernie, came to the parade hoping to find blue collar support.

Beckwith stood on the side of the parade, carrying a sign saying “BERNIE SANDERS,” his shirt adorned with pins in support of the candidate.

“[The parade] is an opportunity to reach people who can connect to Bernie, because laborers can relate to his love for the workers of America,” Beckwith said.

Pitt students who related to workers as well traveled downtown to commemorate the occasion.

Alyssa Lieberman, a Pitt junior politics and philosophy major, president of Pitt’s Americans for an Informed Democracy and also a columnist for The Pitt News, attended the parade with two other members from her organization and marched with United Steelworkers. In the past, AID has worked to cut campus ties with sweatshops and support campus workers as they negotiate their contracts. The club attends several rallies each year to support their causes, and this one was no exception.

“Labor rights are really important to me, and Labor Day should be about celebrating these rights and looking to see what else we have to do,” Lieberman said.

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Biden: Man of steel