This week I will be doing rallies in Chicago, Illinois, Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin and Burlington, Iowa. Let me tell you why.
The political future of our country rests upon one very simple principle. The need for working people to stand up and fight back against corporate greed, and create an economy that works for all of us, and not just billionaires and large corporations.
on Thursday night I was in Chicago to attend a rally called “The Working Class: Fighting Back Against Corporate Greed.” I was joined at that rally by the new president of the Teamsters, Sean O’Brien, and the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, Sara Nelson. These are two of the most progressive labor leaders in the country and I’m pleased to stand with them and their members.
On Friday, I will travel to Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin and Burlington, Iowa to stand with UAW workers who are on strike.
These workers make agriculture and construction equipment at CNH Industrial plants. They went on strike in early May to demand decent wages and working conditions. It is not acceptable that these workers regularly put in 12-hour days and nearly 60-hour weeks, and work up to 17 hours per week of forced overtime. And if that’s not bad enough CNH, which made over $1.7 billion in profits last year, proposed unaffordable health benefits and an average annual raise of just $1.33 per hour for the lowest paid workers, resulting in a substantial pay cut for many after adjusting for inflation and the massive new health benefit costs.
I recently sent a letter to the CEO of CNH demanding that the company bargain in good faith with its workers. If CNH can afford to provide its CEO with a $9.2 million signing bonus and nearly $22 million in total compensation for one year of work – which is nearly 8,000 times the raise offered to some of the workers – then CNH can afford to pay ALL of its workers better wages and benefits. And if CNH can afford to spend over $100 million on stock buybacks over a six-month period to enrich its wealthy shareholders, it can afford to treat all of its workers with the dignity and the respect that they deserve. (If you are near Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin or Burlington, Iowa, we’d love to see you at those rallies.)
The great political challenge our country faces is whether Progressives are able to bring working people — Black, White, Latino, Native American and Asian American — together around an agenda that works for all, or whether ultra-wealthy individuals and large corporations will continue to put us on a path toward outrageous levels of income and wealth inequality. Will we be successful in implementing policies based on justice and hope that address the needs of our people, or will we have an oligarchy based on outrageous greed in which a small number of individuals control our political and economic systems? That’s what these rallies are about.
The future of the country depends on how those questions are answered.
During the last 50 years, there has been a massive transfer of wealth in our country, but it’s going in the wrong direction. The middle class is shrinking while the people on top are doing better than ever. While massive levels of inequality existed before the rise of COVID, over the course of the pandemic we have seen a significant increase in the wealth of the world’s wealthiest individuals while low and moderate-income people are falling further behind.
The good news is that working people are standing together and fighting back. They are telling the billionaire class and powerful corporations that they cannot have it all. And they are making it clear that we cannot continue to tolerate a system that allows the very rich to get much richer while working-class families struggle to put food on the table and afford basic necessities.
All across this country, working people are courageously taking on corporate greed and coming together in solidarity to fight for decent wages, benefits, and working conditions. Workers are organizing and standing up for economic justice on the job in a way that we have not seen for years. This is what a grassroots political revolution is all about.
So, in the midst of all of this, where do we go from here?
Clearly, while we face extreme income and wealth inequality, inflation, the COVID pandemic, attacks on democracy, climate change, and so many other important issues, the challenges we face are great. But the stakes are just too high, and despair is not an option. We must come together and fight back.
What history has always taught us is that real change never takes place from the top on down. It always occurs from the bottom on up. That is the history of the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the environmental movement and the gay rights movement. That is the history of every effort that has brought about transformational change in our society.
That’s the struggle we must intensify today.
We must bring our people together around a progressive agenda. We must educate, organize and build an unstoppable grassroots movement that helps create the kind of nation and world we know we can become. One that is based on the principles of justice and compassion, not greed and oligarchy.
We must never lose our sense of outrage when so few have so much and so many have so little.
We must not allow ourselves to be divided up based on the color of our skin, where we were born, our religion or our sexual orientation.
The greatest threat of the billionaire class is not simply their seemingly unlimited wealth and power. It is their ability to create a culture that makes us feel weak and hopeless and diminishes the strength of human solidarity.
We have seen the courage of working people here in our country who are coming together to take on corporate greed and organize. We have seen Starbucks workers, Amazon workers, and so many others unionize their workplaces and demand a seat at the bargaining table.
Sisters and brothers, right now we are in a struggle between a progressive movement that mobilizes around a shared vision of prosperity, security and dignity for all people, against one that defends oligarchy and massive levels of income and wealth inequality.
It’s a struggle we cannot lose. And it is one that we can overcome, as long as we stand together.
We have come a long way in recent years. Let us continue going forward. Let us continue organizing to transform this country.
Independent US Senator Bernie Sanders represents the State of Vermont.