Sanders: Greed closed GM plant

RIGHT: Lordstown student Jacilyn Wilk, 15, left, and government teacher Courtney Gibson, center, met with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a candidate for president, on Sunday before he addressed a “town meeting” at Lordstown High School. Tribune Chronicle photos / Renee Fox

WARREN — General Motors said it would be too costly to invest $100 million in the Lordstown plant, but chose to give $25 billion in stock buybacks at the urging of hedge fund managers, padding the pockets of the already rich and whisking away well-paying jobs people depended on, said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during a “town meeting” Sunday at Lordstown High School.

Sanders promised if he were elected president, government contracts won’t be awarded to companies that send jobs out of the country for cheap labor, closing down plants, while benefiting from corporate tax breaks and government bailouts, only to turn their back on the workers that made them a success by folding to hedge-fund managers. GM was given $700 million in government contracts under the Trump Administration, Sanders said.

“What we have to decide, whether in our democracy, we are going to allow a handful of billionaires on Wall Street to close down profitable plants like the one here in Lordstown. Whether we are going to allow them to go to Washington and ascertain incredible tax breaks for the 1 percent and then fight to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Whether they are going to dictate trade policies in America, so that profitable corporations will destroy the lives of American workers while they go abroad and pay people $2 an hour to do the work that used to be done in America,” Sanders said.

GM was pressured by hedge-fund managers to take their profits and hand them over to shareholders, rather than investing in American production plants and jobs, Sanders said.

“Our job now is to tell them, whether they like it or not, they will be good corporate citizens,” Sanders said. “If entities like General Motors think that they can throw workers out on the street while they are making billions in profit, and they move to Mexico and pay people there starvation wages and then line up to get federal government contracts, well they got another (thing) coming; that ain’t going to happen.”

Sanders was often met with long periods of applause and shouts of “Bernie, Bernie!” But some were there to protest, including one man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat who disrupted the event by calling Sanders a socialist before being escorted out, and presumably Kaitlin Bennett, the Kent State University “gun girl” who posed with a rifle for her graduation, who was escorted from the auditorium before the event began.

Many media outlets sent reporters, including the New York Times and the New Yorker, and a team from conspiracy outlet Alex Jones’ Infowars, which asked those leaving the auditorium if they “felt the Bern” and then pounced on them with questions about Sanders “selling out” to the Democratic Party after he lost the 2016 presidential primary to Hillary Clinton.

Mallory Martin of Fowler said she hopes to volunteer for Sanders’ campaign.

“He has a message that is full of hope; it centers on love, not hate. And he has a plan of action; it isn’t just lofty ideas,” Martin said. “So many of the political candidates try to divide people with their messages, he is trying to unite everyone.”

Sanders challenged President Donald Trump to tackle Wall Street himself, to push for policies that allow wealth to spread among all people, not just a select few.

“Let’s see how tough you are. Tell General Motors today no more federal contracts,” Sanders said. “Mr. President, I know how tough you are snatching babies from the arms of their mothers, let’s see how tough you are taking on Wall Street and corporate America.”

Sanders spoke to students and teachers before he took the stage. He told high school students in a group for those interested in history and the political system he is thankful they are focused on learning about democracy.

Democracy is a “radical idea” that could be lost if young people don’t understand it and nurture it, Sanders said, and he challenged the students to challenge the ideas of their parents, teachers and peers to keep democracy vibrant.

Hannah Boyle, 17, will be able to vote for the first time next year and she started researching candidates in January. She hasn’t settled on one.

She said universal health care is important to her, as is a candidate that can beat Trump.

“His tone takes a toll on our society. It is a step backwards,” Boyle said.

Mandi Merritt, communications director with the Republican National Committee, released a statement before the rally. Sanders’ policies would be a “disaster” for jobs and workers, it read.

Sanders is registered as a Democrat to run in Democratic primary, but serves as an independent in the Senate.