Recently, Sen. Bernie Sanders delivered an impassioned speechAt the Trade Union Congress headquarters London against rampant inequality, he expressed support for striking railway, maritime, and transport workers throughout Britain.
The rally was part “Enough is Enough”campaign, which was launched by Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union leader Mick Lynch and other union heads in the U.K.To highlight the crisis in inequality that has ensnared the U.S., U.K. and many other countries in a destructive spiral.
Lynch has become a labor celebrity here in the U.K. as a wave sweeping the country has brought about a wave that is bigger than any since the beginning of the year. Winter of Discontent in 1979. Workers from a variety of sectors, including transport, medical care, lawyers, and teachers, have either struck already or are preparing to strike against rampant inflation (now). 10 percent in the U.K.) Taking away the purchasing power of their wages. The unions have significant public support, unlike other periods of mass industrial actions.
In articulating a broad vision of economic equity and fairness, Lynch, in particular, has filled a void left by Opposition Leader Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, which has retreated from many of the more radical policies of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. In an era where gas and energy prices are on the rise, Lynch is a strong voice for economic equity and fairness. Starmer’s refusal to commit to nationalizing energy companiesLynch and others have criticized the party harshly. So too has the party’s refusal to wholeheartedly throw its support behind the striking workers. Indeed, earlier this summer, Starmer disciplined parliamentary membersParticipated in demonstrations to support railway workers.
Sanders’s decision to travel to the U.K. to fully embrace the Enough is Enough campaign marked a watershed moment. Most politicians are, with good reason, often reluctant to step into the roiling waters of other countries’ domestic politics. However, Sanders clearly saw the need to draw attention to the shared experiences between U.S. and U.K. workers, especially during these pandemic-and-inflation-cursed years, and the need for international solidarity.
“Today in America you have three multi-billionaires who own more wealth than about half of American society,” Sanders explained. “In your country, you have 100 people on top who own more wealth than the bottom 18 million people. No-one can tell me from a moral perspective or an economic perspective that it makes any sense at all that so few have so much and so many have so little.” He continued, “In the U.K. and the United States we have got to get our priorities right, and that means creating a government and an economy that work for all, not just for the few.”
Two-time presidential hopeful spoke of three companies in America that control assets worth $20 trillion. And he denounced demagogues “who want to divide us by the color of our skin, or where we were born, or sexual orientation, or whatever.”
Sanders’s 15-minute speech laid out the urgency of coordinated international campaigns to wrench power away from wealthy elites and back toward the people. “We’re seeing a massive redistribution of wealth going in exactly the wrong way,” he declared, talking about how the pandemic had accelerated wealth concentration at the top of the economy, and how a set of interconnected crises were worsening rather than ameliorating inequality. “Our job is to take on these oligarchs. And our job is to imagine a world of justice.”
Sander didn’t mention, but might have, that recent data shows average U.S. life expectancy since the start of the pandemic has declined by a startling three years. Disproportionately, those dying younger are poor, nonwhite — the starkest declines are actually in Native American communities — and non-college-educated. Their reduced life expectancy is caused primarily by COVID-19, but also by increased deaths of despair in an increasingly unequal society — deaths attributed to suicide, drug overdoses, alcoholism and gun violence.
The U.K.’s life expectancy fell significantly during the pandemic. Perhaps even more shocking, the life expectancy gapFrom 2018 to 2020, the difference between wealthy and poor areas was about a year. This was largely before the pandemic. In fact, the absolute life expectancy for females in the poorest areas in the U.K. has dropped since 2011. As in the U.S. a vastly disproportionate number of COVID deaths have also fallen on the nonwhite population.
In both the U.K. and the U.S., support for unions, and for workers’ rights more generally, is on the rise after decades in which labor organizations have been on the defensive. Workers in Starbucks cafes and Amazon warehouses have launched high-profile organizing effortsOver the past few years, polls show that there has been more public support for the unions in the U.S. than in nearly 60-years.
“You’re seeing people at the top, people who are phenomenally rich becoming richer, a middle class continuing to shrink, and millions and millions of people living in abject poverty,” Sanders told his enthused audience. “Working people all over the globe have got to stand together and tell the oligarchs they cannot win.”