U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, says the nation has a moral duty to raise the minimum wage. Photo by Alex Nettles for the Charleston City Paper.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, called Saturday for raising the federal minimum wage to $17 per hour at a labor rally with S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, and the Rev. William Barber II, a noted North Carolina activist.

“South Carolina and Vermont, all across this country, people are angry,” Sanders said at the ILA Local 1142 Hall on Morrison Drive. “The problem is too many are taking out their anger in the wrong way. It is time to get angry at the greed of the people on top,”

In South Carolina, there is no minimum state wage, but the state follows the standard federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Saturday’s labor rally began with a gospel choir. Spirited singing and clapping came next.

This month, Sanders and Barber are touring the South to push a bill Sanders introduced in April to raise the minimum wage to $17 per hour.  South Carolina was their third state in a three-state tour following visits to North Carolina and Tennessee since Thursday. 

“The minimum wage in South Carolina can no longer be a starvation wage of $7.25 per hour. That is absurd,” he said.

Saturday’s event was sponsored by the SC AFL-CIO and the International Longshoremen’s Union. South Carolina has the lowest union density in the county.

Barber, center, at the Saturday rally. Photo by Alex Nettles for the Charleston City Paper.

Barber, a member of the national board of the NAACP, is president at Repairers of the Breach and co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival. He joined Sanders to “make the moral case for raising wages.”  

Barber quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and passages from the Bible on Saturday in Charleston.  He said a living wage was a moral issue, not a conservative or progressive issue.  

He called the nation’s current minimum wage a type of abuse and a “death wage” as poverty is considered one of the leading causes of death in the United States. 

Sanders, the longest-serving independent in Congress, said that a living wage was a moral issue, not a political one. 

“The Revered spoke about morality,” he said. “It is not moral that three people have more wealth than the bottom half of American society.”

Gilliard said he thought a South Carolina law that prohibits the raising of the minimum wage by a local government was an insult.

“We have to rescind that law,” said Gilliard, currently a candidate for a Senate seat being vacated by S.C. Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston. “It is dangerous unto itself.”  He  also expressed concern about inflation’s effect on the minimum wage.

Alex Nettles is a City Paper summer intern who attends Elon University.

Love Best of Charleston?

Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.