- Sen. Bernie Sanders gave a floor speech on Monday about the growing labor movement.
- He said the US faces growing oligarchy, or power concentrated in the hands of the wealthiest.
- Or, workers could gain more power as union activity ramps up.
Last week marked a historic first for organized labor: Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island voted to unionize. Senator Bernie Sanders is excited about it.
The victory comes as Starbucks locations around the country vote to unionize, and will likely set off a wave of organizing. Christian Smalls, the founder of the Amazon Labor Union and a former Amazon employee, tweeted on Tuesday that the union has heard from workers at over 50 locations since it won its NLRB vote.
“Today I want to continue to express my support and admiration for these workers who are not only organizing for themselves and for their coworkers, but in fact are organizing for all of us,” Senator Bernie Sanders said in a Monday floor speech. “Because when you have a strong union movement in this country, you stand the possibility of having a strong middle class.”
Sanders congratulated both the Amazon and Starbucks workers, and recognized several other groups who have gone on strike, including King Soopers workers and Kellogg’s workers.
“In the year 2022, the United States, and, in fact, the rest of the world, face two very distinct political paths,” Sanders said. “On one hand, there is a growing movement toward oligarchy, in which a small number of incredibly wealthy and powerful billionaires own and control a very significant part of the economy, and exert enormous influence over the political life of our country. That is precisely what we are seeing today.”
Sanders said that’s one direction the country can continue to move in — but there’s also another option.
“That other direction is opposition to oligarchy and corporate greed, and it is the creation of a movement of working people and young people, who are today in ever increasing numbers fighting for justice, economic justice, racial justice, social justice, environmental justice,” Sanders said. “And they are fighting for justice in a way that we have not seen in years.”
He added: “It is that growing trade union movement that makes me so very hopeful for the future of this country.”
Sanders’ remarks and the recent wins come even as union membership remains low. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 14.0 million workers in a union in 2021 — a drop from 14.3 million in 2020. At the same time, around 140,000 workers walked out in 2021, according to research from Cornell University’s ILR School. There were 265 work stoppages in 2021, and a third were from nonunionized workers, suggesting that even workers who aren’t formally part of a union were walking out for better conditions or higher pay.
“Make no mistake about it,” Sanders said. “We will never have a strong middle class in this country with decent wages and decent benefits, where workers can afford to pay the rent, and send their kids to college and take a few weeks off paid vacation — that is not going to happen until we have a strong labor movement in this country.”