Progressive US senator Bernie Sanders gave his backing Wednesday to striking British workers, urging global solidarity amid surging inequality as he added an international dimension to the growing push for higher wages in the UK.
The influential independent lawmaker, a key left-wing voice in the United States and beyond, joined members of the RMT union at a rally for transport workers in central London on Wednesday night.
The event, outside the headquarters of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), coincides with strike action by postal workers, telecoms staff as well as journalists and other sectors.
“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 your fight for justice and we stand with you,” Sanders told the crowd, to a rapturous reception.
Comparing glaring income inequality in the US and UK, he urged solidarity as the middle class in both countries and elsewhere is increasingly squeezed amid rising inflation rates in the developed world.
“Working people all over this globe have got to stand together and tell the oligarchs they cannot have it all,” Sanders added.
The UK is in the grip of a surging cost-of-living crisis, with inflation at a 40-year high of 10.1 percent and spiralling energy prices.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs has predicted rates could even top 20 percent from early next year if wholesale gas prices stay high.
Industrial action has been increasing for months, spreading from the railways and aviation sector to postal services, telecoms and even criminal lawyers.
Health service workers, including nurses and junior doctors, are currently being balloted for strike action.
– ‘Summer of discontent’ –
On Wednesday, the TSSA union representing transport and travel sector workers, announced a 24-hour strike by train drivers on September 26-27.
The walk-out over pay, job security and conditions is timed to coincide with the final days of the Labour party’s annual conference in Liverpool.
“As a Labour affiliated union TSSA will be looking for support from conference delegates and MPs to join them on the picket line to show solidarity in fighting the Conservatives’ cost of living crisis,” the union said in a statement.
Unions, major donors to the country’s main opposition party, have criticised its leader Keir Starmer for his lukewarm support for striking workers.
The scale of the current industrial unrest has not been seen since the 1980s, when Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher sought to weaken the unions as part of free market economic policy.
It has been widely dubbed “the summer of discontent”, in a conscious nod to the “winter of discontent” of 1978-79, the wave of public sector strikes before Thatcher came to power.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who leaves office next week, has done little to tackle the crisis since he announced his resignation in July.
Last week, households were told they face an 80-percent increase in energy bills, stoking fears that millions will be unable to pay.
Johnson’s successor will be announced on Monday, with the Thatcherite Foreign Secretary Liz Truss favourite against former finance minister Rishi Sunak.
Truss has rejected handouts to help those most in need, while Sunak is in favour of direct government support.