In an op-ed published on Tuesday, longtime labor advocate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) set a New Year’s resolution for himself and the working class: to “rise up together” and confront corporate power in 2022.
2021 was a watershed year for the labor movement, Sanders noted in his op-ed for The Guardian. Workers for John Deere, Nabisco, Kaiser Permanente, Kellogg and more striked or authorized a strike last year, making strides toward fairer working conditions. Another major victory was won by Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York, who formed the company’s first-ever union.
“While the corporate-owned media may not be actively reporting it, working people all over the country, with extraordinary courage and determination, are taking on corporate greed, and they are winning,” Sanders wrote.
Sanders detailed ongoing efforts in places like West Virginia, where roughly 450 steel workers at a company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, Special Metals, have been striking since October. The company has offered “an outrageous and insulting contract” with no pay raises this year, while it quadruples health care premiums and reduces time off.
The senator also pointed to a bakery workers’ strike in California, where about 100 workers – the majority of whom are Latina women – are striking against Rich Products Corporation for forcing them to work up to 16 hours a day. Employees at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama, who work similarly long hours, have been on strike since April. After facing pressure from Wall Street investors during a restructuring deal, workers suffered a pay cut of over 20 percent on average in 2016.
While refusing to treat their workers fairly, these companies have all raked in enormous profits, Sanders pointed out. Last year, Special Metals made $1.5 billion and Rich Products made $4 billion. Meanwhile, Warrior Met has paid out $1.4 billion in shareholder dividends since 2014.
Workers currently face ever-increasing corporate greed, a devastating pandemic and a political system that is rapidly deteriorating – and as class warfare is “intensifying,” organizing is more critical than ever. “The stakes are just too high,” Sanders wrote. “Despair is not an option. We must stand up and fight back.”
Change can be achieved through the labor movement and through transformative social movements, Sanders went on, adding that corporate greed and growing oligarchy are the enemy of these movements.
“The greatest weapon our opponents have is not just their 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,” Sanders wrote. “And here is our new year’s resolution. Like the thousands of workers who stood up and fought courageously in 2021, we will do the same. No one individual is going to save us. We must rise up together.”
The lawmaker has been a staunch supporter of the labor movement for years, and has stood with workers as they fought for better conditions and wages in 2021. In November, he traveled to Battle Creek, Michigan, to stand with striking Kellogg workers in the 11th week of their strike; in late December, he sent a letter to Buffett asking the Berkshire CEO to intervene in his company’s contract negotiations by offering a fair agreement to workers.
As 2021 came to an end, Sanders continually pushed workers to stand in solidarity with each other. “I’ve got news for the ruling class: you cannot have it all,” he warned on Twitter. “The working class is fighting back.”
During his presidential campaign in 2020, Sanders made the labor movement a central plank of his platform, vowing to end so-called “right to work” laws and aiming to double union membership during his first term. Union membership has been declining for decades, and was at a dismal 10.8 percent in 2020. This has led to a decline – of about $3,250 – in the median workers’ annual wage since 1979.