United States senator Bernie Sanders has backed UK unions fighting for improved pay and conditions, saying “working people all over the globe have got to stand together”.
Mr Sanders, 80, who represents the state of Vermont, addressed the Save London Transport rally, organised by unions including the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), in central London on Wednesday.
It comes after the RMT claimed a long-term funding arrangement announcement by the Government and Transport for London on Tuesday will attack Tube workers’ pay and pensions, warning it will lead to strikes.
Mr Sanders, who competed for the US Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020, said: “Let me thank the RMT for inviting me to be with you this evening, it is in truth a real honour and I want to convey to you my belief that millions of working people throughout this country are proud of what you are doing, they’re proud of their fight for justice and we stand with you.
“What is going on today in the UK is no different than what is going on in the United States of America, same bloody thing.
“What you are seeing is people on the top, people who are phenomenally rich, are becoming richer, you are 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 UK or the United States, working people all over the globe have got to stand together.”
He added: “Our job right now internationally is to stand together. 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.”
Speaking ahead of the event, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch told the PA news agency: “It’s great that the senator’s come over, he reached out to us – coming here to express his solidarity for workers in the UK but also around the world, and in his own country, the USA.
“I think Sanders moved the debate in the American democratic primaries, he’s made (President Joe) Biden bring forward a very brave pro-union agenda and many people on the union side are pleased with some of the measures that President Biden has brought in, and Bernie Sanders is responsible for that.
“But he’s also responsible along with others of generating a new wave of trade union activity, with new unions, new union activists from a diverse background, getting to grips with some of these corporate profits and corporate rip-offs that are going on in the States.
“And we can learn from that over here, I’m sure that they can learn from what we’re doing, so we’ve got to make those connections and make our movement international.”
On what Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer could learn from Mr Sanders, he said: “He’s got to be in sympathy and empathy with working people and their problems, show working people that he understands their issues.”
He added: “The purpose tonight is the funding crisis that’s been going on in London transport ever since Covid started when the fares fell away because people were told not to travel.
“So that’s left a massive hole in London transport and Transport for London’s finances and the mayor has had a multiple arrangement of short-term deals, sometimes as little as a week or two, he’s got a 19-month deal now but that seems to have put services under threat to some extent because we have got to trust that the Tories are going to finance that.
“But also it seems to put our members’ pay, their jobs, their pensions and their terms and conditions on the table.
“This is a rally in defence of London transport services but also in defence of London transport workers.”