Our goal for 2022

Image: Mike


Little reported by the media, US workers are facing the greed of big corporations, and they are winning

We face a devastating pandemic with no end on the horizon. We are taking big steps towards an oligarchic regime. While income and wealth inequalities only increase, millions of people struggle to guarantee the basic necessities of their survival. We have a dysfunctional health care system that fails to protect, or insufficiently protects, over 84 million people, with one person in four unable to afford their prescription drugs. Climate change is ravaging the planet while systemic racism and other forms of bigotry continue to erode the fabric of our society. We have a corrupt political system in which big corporate money buys elections and a media mainstream which largely ignores the suffering of ordinary people.

In the midst of all this, there are supporters of the Republican Party in all corners of the country working around the clock to undermine democracy, seeking to make it difficult for people of color, young people and opponents to vote in the next elections.

In other words, the challenges we face are enormous, and it's easy to understand why so many fall into depression or resort to cynicism. These are moods that we must nonetheless resist – not just for our own sake, but for the sake of our children and future generations. The stakes are too great and despair is not an option. We must therefore rise up and strike back.

In that regard, I have good news. As much as it is not actively reported, workers across the country are standing up to the greed of big corporations with extraordinary courage and determination, and they are winning.

John Deere workers went on strike for the first time in more than three decades, secured picket lines and, in the end, won a contract with big pay increases, a ratification bonus and increased health coverage. Striking nurses in Buffalo won raises that raised the wage threshold for all workers to at least $15 an hour, as well as reducing staff shortages. They not only fought for their interests, but also for their patients – and they won.

Kaiser Permanente health workers scored a major victory after rejecting a contract that would have offered lower wages and benefits to new employees. Nabisco workers, battling forced overtime, inadequate wages and pensions, a two-tier health care system, and outsourcing, went on strike and won. Once again, we witnessed yet another workers' struggle that went beyond their own interests, also defending the next generations.

More than 1400 workers at Kellogs, Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Nebraska joined a months-long, victorious strike, fighting a plan that would push lower wages and benefits to new workers. Starbucks employees in upstate New York set up a union store for the first time while fighting a giant company that did virtually everything it could to stop them.

These are just some of the inspiring efforts that have taken place over the past year. Now, let me tell you what is happening right now, as workers continue to clash with some of the most powerful business interests in the country.

In Hutington, West Virginia, 450 steel workers from Special Metals engaged in a massive strike lasting nearly 100 days. Special Metals is a profitable company owned by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway. Buffet, of course, is one of the richest people in the world, with a net worth of over $109 billion.

While Special Metals made $1,5 billion last year and Mr. Buffett became $40 billion richer during the pandemic, executives at this company offered workers an outrageous contract that included zero pay raises for this year and an unacceptable 1% raise for next. At the same time, they were increasing health care costs and decreasing vacation time.

Unfortunately, the corporate greed we witness in West Virginia is not an aberration. In Santa Fe Springs, Calif., about 100 bakery workers, who make cakes for Baskin Robbins, Safeway and Cold Stone Creamery, are on strike against the – aptly named – Rich Products Corporation at the John Donaire Desserts. About 75% of these employees are Latina women, often forced to work overtime with little, if any, notice and sometimes up to 16 hours a day.

This is a company that had revenues of 4 billion dollars last year. During the pandemic, Bob Rich, the majority owner of Rich Products, increased his net worth by more than $2 billion. While the workers he employs are barely paid above California's minimum wage, Mr. Rich accumulates a wealth of over 7,5 billion dollars. However, despite his billionaire wealth, the “best and last proposition” that Mr. Rich laid out for his workers was an offensive $1 an hour wage increase. This is pathetic.

However, this is not uncommon in the world of corporate greed. In Brookwood, Alabama, about 1.110 Warrior Met Coal workers have been on strike since April. Like the bakers in California and the steel workers in West Virginia, these are people who worked up to seven days a week, with workdays of nearly 16 hours.

In 2016, under high pressure to keep the company afloat and secure jobs in their community, these miners accepted a pay cut of $6 an hour – more than 20% of their average salary – and a substantial reduction in their health plans. and their retirements as part of a restructuring deal made by opportunist funds like Blackstone and Apollo.

Meanwhile, Warrior Met executives and their Wall Street investors got away like bandits. Since 2017, Warrior Met has rewarded its wealthy shareholders $1,4 billion while handing out bonuses of nearly $35.000 to its executives. However, once Warrior Met was profitable again, it offered its employees a measly $1,50 an hour pay raise, spread over a 5-year period, and refused to restore the health benefits and pensions they had. been withdrawn.

The struggles of these workers are not the only ones. There are millions of other Americans in exactly the same position – people who have to fight tooth and nail against the interests of the rich and powerful to ensure decent wages, health care, pensions and safe working conditions. And, let's be clear, the class struggle in this country is intensifying. Greed is on the rise.

What history always teaches us is that real change never happens from the top down. They always occur from bottom to top. This is the story of the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the environmental movement, and the LGBT rights movement. This is the story of all the efforts that transformed our society.

And that is the fight we must intensify today. In a time when demagogues want to divide us by the color of our skin, where we were born, by our religion or sexual orientation, we must do exactly the opposite. We must unite people around a progressive agenda. We must educate, organize and build a grassroots movement that will help create the kind of nation we know we can be. A nation based on the principles of justice and compassion, not greed and oligarchy.

Our opponents' greatest weapon is not just their wealth and unlimited power. It is their capacity to create a culture that makes us feel weak and hopeless, and that reduces the strength of human solidarity. And here is our New Year's goal. Like thousands of workers who stood up and fought courageously in 2021, we will do the same. No individual will save us. We must rise together.

*Bernie Sanders is a senator of the United States Congress from the state of Vermont

Translation: Daniel Pavan.

Originally published in the newspaper The Guardian.

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