Bernie speaks in London

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) spoke at a rally in London on August 31, 2022. (Photo: Matt Duss/Twitter)

In UK Speech, Sanders Says 'Stand Together and Tell the Oligarchs They Cannot Have It All'

Addressing a trade union rally in London, the U.S. senator called for bringing "working people together in the fight for justice and a world that belongs to all of us not just the people on top."

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday gave a London crowd a speech somewhat reminiscent of his two presidential runs, celebrating the power of working people to unite against monied interests and win better living and labor conditions.

"Our job right now, internationally, is to stand together."

The Vermont Independent addressed the "Save London's Public Transport Rally" organized by the United Kingdom's National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT). He was introduced by the group's leader, Mick Lynch.

"What is going on today in the U.K. is no different than what is going on in the United States of America--same bloody thing," Sanders declared. "What you are seeing is people on the top, people who are phenomenally rich, are becoming richer. You're seeing a middle class continue to shrink, and you're seeing millions and millions of people living in abject poverty."

"In the year 2022, we cannot allow that to happen, whether it's the U.K. or the United States," he asserted. "Working people all over this globe have got to stand together and tell the oligarchs they cannot have it all."

"Bring working people together in the fight for justice and a world that belongs to all of us not just the people on top," Sanders urged.

Watch (Sanders' speech begins at 1:31:30):

The leading U.S. leftist argued that the wealth inequality that exists in the U.K. and U.S. doesn't make sense from a moral or economic perspective, and touched on issues including concentrated ownership of companies and what's ignored by the corporate media.

"Our job is to take on these oligarchs, and our job is to imagine a world of justice," he said, adding that it is not radical for people in rich nations to expect a decent standard of living--including access to food, affordable housing, healthcare, and high-quality schools and childcare.

"Our job right now, internationally, is to stand together," Sanders said to applause. "Our job right now is to bring people all over the world together, to make it clear to the oligarchs that their day and their power is ending."

After praising the efforts of U.K. unions, Sanders--who recently joined striking Starbucks workers in Boston on the picket line--said Wednesday that "I want to tell you that in the United States we are now seeing more trade union organizing efforts than we have seen in a very long time. And I want to tell you that because of the pressure on the working class in America, unions are now more popular than they have been since the 1960s in the United States."

"So in America now we are trying to grow the trade union movement," he continued. "We are trying to combine trade unionists with the progressive movement to create an economic and political force of real power. And I'm happy to tell you we are making real success. We have more strong progressives in the U.S. House of Representatives than we have had in a very, very long time."

Paraphrasing American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Sanders emphasized that there will never be justice without struggle.

"They are never gonna give it to ya," Sanders said of the powerful present-day oligarchs. "That ain't the way it works."

"The only way justice ever comes about... the only way working people ever make success is when we stand up, we take them on, and we win," he said. That's what this struggle is about."

"What you are doing [in the U.K.] is being noticed in the United States and around the world. You're an inspiration to people all over this globe," he concluded. "So let us go forward together. Let's keep our eyes on the prize. Let's take on corporate greed. Let's transform the world's economy."

Ahead of his speech, Sanders spoke with The Guardian's Owen Jones about the labor organizing sweeping the United States--at Amazon, Starbucks, and beyond--and his hopes of building solidarity, both within the U.S. and across the Atlantic.

Asked about bringing together trade unionists and the rising U.S. younger left, Sanders told Jones, "That kind of unity is something we are working on very hard."

"I've now held three rallies with progressive union leaderships--with Sean O'Brien, the new president of the Teamsters, and Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants--in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston," Sanders noted.

"What we see at these rallies is unionists coming together with younger progressives--and the unity of those forces, young people fighting for economic and racial justice with a union movement, has incredible potential," he added. "To answer the question: it's absolutely imperative we bring them together--and we are trying to do that."

Jones pointed out that in the U.K., Sanders "has swung his considerable political heft behind a new campaign--Enough Is Enough--launched to fight Britain's mounting cost of living crisis, which was founded in part by Lynch and the RMT."

Sanders explained that the campaign name is a term that's also popular in the United States. "'Enough is enough,' funnily enough, is an expression we use a lot here," he said. "People are sick and tired of often working longer hours for low wages; sick and tired of their kids having a lower standard of living than them; and they're sick and tired of billionaires getting richer and richer while they fall behind."

"Why, with all this new tech out there, are they not seeing an improved standard of living? Why not more equality, rather than less equality? Why are living standards deteriorating, not improving?" he continued. "Lynch is asking that, Enough Is Enough is asking that--and it's hitting a nerve, because people are tired of being ignored while the rich get richer."

As Jones wrote:

I wonder, too, if he recognizes that Enough Is Enough has emerged in large part because of a vacuum left by a Labour leadership that has abandoned any pretense of transformative change. Sanders is diplomatic. "I think it's not dissimilar to what we're seeing in the Democratic party here--I'm not commenting on the Labour Party; I don't know enough," he says. Referring to traditional left-of-center parties struggling in the Global North, he adds: "Because working-class people are increasingly alienated from the political process, those parties are not delivering for them. That's why the Democrats have a choice to make: are they the party of the working class or the elite?"

The legacy of Sanders, surely, is that he brought together otherwise fragmented and disillusioned pockets of discontent into a highly visible and articulate movement with confident demands. Maybe--just maybe--he can help pull off the same trick by helping to unite the increasingly assertive labor movements on both sides of the Atlantic.

The RMT rally came just after Transport for London (TfL) and the U.K.'s Department for Transport (DfT), led by Secretary Grant Shapps, struck a PS3.6 billion funding deal--the sixth bailout for the city's system, which has struggled throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

While Shapps claimed that the deal "more than delivers for Londoners" and TfL Commissioner Andy Byford described it as "hard won," Mayor of London Sadiq Khan called the agreement "far from ideal" and Lynch was even more critical and warned strikes are likely.

"This deal negotiated in secret by TfL and government ministers will likely see our members' pensions attacked and further pay restraint in the future, coupled with driverless trains," the RMT leader said in a statement before the Wednesday night event.

"Grant Shapps' attack on tube workers would be unacceptable at any time but in an escalating cost-of-living crisis it is shameful and will be resisted through further strike action," he argued. "TfL need to stand up to Grant Shapps and demand a deal that serves all the people of London and addresses the real concerns of London transport workers who keep the capital running."

Lynch vowed that the rally would "send a message that RMT and other transport unions will not tolerate attacks on workers pay and conditions or cuts to public services."

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