US car workers striking against the nation’s three biggest automakers “are waging … a fight against the outrageous level of corporate greed” seen across the country, Bernie Sanders said on Friday.
The liberal US senator’s remarks came on Friday afternoon during a rally with the United Auto Workers in Detroit, Michigan, kicking off the first day of the union’s “Stand Up” strikes against General Motors, Stellantis and Ford.
During his speech at the rally, Sanders told the crowd: “The fight that you are waging here is not only about decent wages, decent benefits and decent working conditions in the automobile industry. No. The fight you are waging is a fight against the outrageous level of corporate greed and arrogance that we are seeing on the part of CEOs who think they have a right to have it all and could [not] care less about the needs of their workers.”
He continued: “The fight you are waging is to rebuild the struggling middle class of our country that was once the envy of the world.”
Sanders also asserted that the CEOs and stockholders of the US’s biggest carmakers “make out like bandits”.
“We refuse to live in an oligarchy,” Sanders said. “We refuse to accept a society in which so few have so much and so many have so little.”
Among those who watched the Vermont senator’s speech was Chris Sanders, a worker at the Ford plant in Dearborn, Michigan, for 10 years. Sanders, 54, told the Guardian that significant media attention and focus on the economic effects of the strike on businesses and consumers misses the point.
“The question that should be asked is what has 20 years of not paying our fair share cost the economy?” he said. “If we learned [anything] from the Covid-19 pandemic, we learned that putting money in the hands of real people is what keeps the economy going, because what creates jobs are not billionaires.
“What creates jobs is having money in the hands of real people spending it or saving it, because they are spending it on products that create demand.”
Chris Sanders noted the Ford plant had been holding job fairs and had trouble hiring because the starting wages of about $16 an hour no longer compete with other jobs. “No one ever has a problem with the executives getting paid $21m to $27m, and hourly labor and benefits is less than 5% of the total cost of a vehicle,” he said. “They just always want to put it to the greedy autoworker and I’m so damn tired of it.”
Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, it secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, and lieutenant governor, Garlin Gilchrist II, gave introductory speeches at the rally before the UAW president, Shawn Fain, brought on Sanders, who is an independent but caucuses with Democrats.
“It’s time to pick a side,” Fain said while introducing Sanders. “Either you’re with the billionaire class or you’re with the working class.”