PHILADELPHIA — Thousands of union workers wearing brightly colored T-shirts gathered Saturday for a rally to demand attention from politicians of both parties to issues affecting working people.
Labor leaders, politicians and some union members at the "Workers Stand for America" rally drew applause as they portrayed a middle class being squeezed and called for a second "Bill of Rights" that would guarantee full employment and a "living wage," quality education, health care and security in retirement as well as collective bargaining.
"You built the middle class, you're going to continue to build the middle class,' Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., told the crowd. "You help people who are sometimes not even in a union, because you lift all boats when you fight for those rights."
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka drew chants of "Union! Union!" after a fiery speech telling workers that they were "job creators."
"We built this country! We wake it up every day, we make it run and we put it to sleep every night — and it's time that we took it back for the American worker," he said. "Anyone who says America can't afford retirement security, or health care, or decent pay for honest work, or great schools, or a postal service, or cops or firefighters and teachers and nurses, well they don't know what they're talking about and we won't accept their defeatism!"
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz trained most of her fire on presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his just-announced running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, whose name drew boos from the crowd. She called GOP policies "top-down and backward," and said the Republican ticket would return to what she called the failed policies of previous GOP President George W. Bush.
"As a mother, I believe a child needs an education more than a millionaire needs a tax break," she said.
Members of the crowd, many of them bearing union signs and American flags, began arriving early in the day on buses from surrounding states, and the crowd stretched all the way across from the stage at Eakins Oval on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art made famous in the movie "Rocky."