Amid labor strikes against poor working conditions and low wages for Amazon and McDonald’s workers, we speak with 2020 presidential candidate Julián Castro about workers’ rights, fair pay and where he stands on foreign policy, from China to Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: Secretary Castro, on Monday, Amazon warehouse workers walked out during the first of two days of the company’s yearly sale for its Prime members, known as Prime Day, one of the online retailer’s biggest shopping days of the year. Workers at the fulfillment center in Minnesota protested dangerous working conditions, wage practices, lack of job security.
You tweeted in support of the workers, writing, “A company worth $1 trillion can absolutely afford to provide reasonable conditions for its employees. My campaign is proud to stand with Amazon warehouse workers this #PrimeDay, and will continue fighting for an economy that works for all Americans.”
We also understand that you’re going out today in Davenport, Iowa, where you are, to stand with McDonald’s workers. They protested yesterday in Des Moines. The strike is calling for higher wages, expected through Wednesday. Is it true you’re going to be walking with the McDonald’s workers to discuss a boost to fast-food wages? So, Amazon and McDonald’s, and how that fits into your bigger economic picture, if you were president?
JULIÁN CASTRO: I’m proud to do it. You know, about a month and a half ago, I was in Durham, North Carolina, to join McDonald’s workers who were striking there in their fight for 15, for a minimum wage of $15 an hour, and better working conditions and the ability to more effectively organize. A couple weeks before that, I had stood with workers out at the University of California at San Francisco, who were striking around conditions there.
Amazon, last year, as many of the folks watching will know, they made more than $11 billion in profit, but paid no federal tax. In fact, they got $129 million tax rebate. And yet they can’t pay their workers decent wages or allow them to take something as simple as a bathroom break that is of a sufficient amount of time for folks to be comfortable. These are the kinds of working conditions that they have in some of these warehouses. And I’m absolutely proud to join Amazon workers who are on strike. My campaign is happy to highlight that.
How this fits into what I see for us in the years ahead is that my vision for the United States is that we be the most prosperous nation on Earth in the 21st century, but that that prosperity has to mean prosperity for everybody. That means that we need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, so that people can make a decent living, or at least enough to provide for their family and to pay the rent, because right now there’s not a single county in the United States where if you’re working full time, minimum wage, that you can afford a two-bedroom apartment—the rent on a two-bedroom apartment.
We need to ensure that people are able to organize themselves into labor unions more effectively, because we know that throughout our history the strength of unions has helped to ensure that people have better working conditions and that they have better wages. We know in the United States that even over the last four decades, as productivity—worker productivity has gone up tremendously by United States workers, that their wages have not kept pace at all, even as things like the rent have gone through the roof, so to speak.
So it is time for us to go in a different direction from this Reagan-era approach, where we think if we just treat everybody at the top and wealthy corporations very well, that that’s going to trickle down to the workers. We have seen that that failed definitively. And we have the evidence of that in workers who are struggling to be able to pay the rent, people who are having to double up out there, people that are sleeping in their cars, more people who are sleeping on the streets, and folks that are not able to achieve their dreams in this country. So, I believe that we need to go in that better direction, where everybody gets paid a decent wage. And that’s what I’m trying to champion in this campaign.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Secretary Castro, I wanted to ask you about another exchange that happened in the debates. You were asked about what you consider to be the—in the first presidential debate, the greatest geopolitical threats to the United States. And you said they were climate change and China. Why do you see China as a geopolitical threat to the United States?
JULIÁN CASTRO: Well, I see China as a country that we have to be smart about, and that if we don’t forge the right alliances around the world, can present a growing threat to the United States. It’s estimated that by 2030 China is going to eclipse the United States in terms of its economic strength. It’s going to be the biggest economy in the world. It’s growing in military strength. It’s also true that China has a very different ideology and perspective from the United States.
I believe that the United States should continue to champion things like freedom and democracy for people and opportunity for people, but not do it in the way that we sometimes have done, whether it’s propping up dictators in Central America or getting into needless wars in places like Iraq. But still, there is a difference in approach. And my point at that debate was that we need to forge alliances, now more than ever before, in Latin America, in Africa, we need to repair our European alliances, to ensure that this push toward more freedom and more openness continues in the years to come and that we don’t go in the other direction, that I think, in many ways, China represents.
AMY GOODMAN: You were one of many Democratic presidential candidates to skip the AIPAC meeting, not to address it, the American Israel political action group. Why?
JULIÁN CASTRO: Well, first of all, I think, when it came to AIPAC, that I got a request—didn’t get a formal request, but got an inquiry, maybe two weeks before that event. And our schedule is packed right now, and so I wasn’t able to go. But I also have expressed reservations, my reservations, about the Netanyahu administration’s willingness to make the moves that I believe Israel ought to make to ensure that we have a two-state solution in the future and that the basic human rights of Palestinians are respected. Now, I believe—I see Israel as a strong ally of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
JULIÁN CASTRO: And I believe that we need to maintain that strong relationship. But I also believe that this administration has gone too far in one direction and that the United States needs to hold our friends accountable—
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there.
JULIÁN CASTRO: —for helping to ensure that we have a two-state solution.
AMY GOODMAN: Julián Castro, thank you so much for being with us, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.