On January 17, long-time UE ally Senator Bernie Sanders, who is now the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, delivered a major speech in the Senate, which was also broadcast on the Senator’s social media channels.
Sanders began his speech with two questions: “One: What is everyday life like today for the vast majority of our people – the working class of this country, the middle class and lower income Americans? What are the pains, struggles, and the hopes that they are striving for? And secondly, what is Congress going to do to improve life for working families?” He noted that these questions are rarely discussed in the corporate media.
He described the four “most important economic and political realities now facing this country” as 1) the long-term decline in living standards for the working class (which he noted has been going on for 50 years, and did not begin with either the Biden or Trump administration); 2) the “unprecedented and obscene level” of economic inequality; 3) the “rapidly growing concentration of ownership” in the economy; and 4) “The incredible and dangerous power that billionaires have over our political system.”
Taken together, Sanders said, “what we are witnessing now in this country is the rapid evolution of our society into an oligarchy… It is very easy for us to look at Putin’s Russia and talk about the oligarchy there. The time is long overdue for us to pay attention to oligarchy in our own country.”
He described in stark terms what it means to live paycheck to paycheck — as 63 percent of workers in the U.S. currently do: “It means that every day you are living under incredible stress - scared to death that if your car breaks down, if your kid gets sick, if your landlord raises the rent, if you get divorced or separated, if you become pregnant, if for whatever reason you lose your job, you will find yourself in the midst of a financial catastrophe. … It is one of the reasons why the life expectancy of working people is much lower than those who are upper-income.”
In order to address the challenges facing working people, Sanders reiterated his long-standing commitment to “grow the union movement … because unions provide better wages, benefits and working conditions for their members. In fact, union workers make, on average, wages that are about 20 percent higher than their non-union counterparts. They also have much better healthcare and far better pension plans than non-union employees. And, by the way, when unions win decent contracts for their employees they drive up wages for all workers in the country.”