Not too long ago I wrote a post, describing Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, and Democratic presidential candidate, as a moderate center-left, social democratic politician compared with European standards. Today, I have to correct my view, and say that while this is mostly correct, he is to the right of some European conservatives as far as his “family values” agenda is concerned.
It should first be noted that Sanders views on family values is much more accurate than US conservatives, who have appropriated the term to mean a ban on abortions, access to contraceptives and gay marriage. But what does Sanders himself stand for? He argues that family values involve a set of economic and social policies, which improve the material status of working people and allow them to spend time with their families and get paid to do so. Sanders advocates for the US to end the disgrace of being the only industrialized country that does not guarantee paid family/ medical/ maternity and sick leave and mandatory paid vacation. It is, indeed, time to end this disgrace, which is only helpful in padding the bottom line of the companies that employ and exploit these workers.
But before somebody should claim that Sanders’ agenda is radically leftist, we should step back for a minute and consider the details of Sanders’ family value agenda, and then compare it with the family policies of other European countries.
Sanders on Maternity Leave: 12 weeks of paid leave for mothers to spend time with their children.
Canada, Croatia, Serbia, Denmark and UK: 52 weeks or a year. Sweden: 420 days
Sanders on paid sick leave: 7 days per year
Austria: 6 weeks at full pay, additional 4 weeks at 75% pay. France: 12 months in 3-year period. Germany: 6 weeks at full pay, and 78 weeks in 3-year period. Netherlands: 2 years at 70% pay
Sanders on paid vacation: 10 days or 2 weeks per year
Austria and Portugal: 35 days. Germany and Spain: 34 days. France: 31 days.
My selection of comparison countries was, indeed, very selective, and I picked the more generous countries, but I do want to show that Sanders’ proposals are not radical, but make him to the right of even conservatives in Europe. It is certainly not realistic for Sanders to demand a Scandinavian paradise in the United States, but it would certainly be wrong to suggest that his family values agenda is a fringe proposal in the context of industrialized countries.
Given that the US is a developing country when it comes to giving workers the most basic social amenities, we certainly need a family values agenda that prioritizes more social benefits to workers and their families. As far as I know, no other presidential contender has put forward such a comparably determined family values agenda, and for that Sanders should certainly be commended.