Bernie Sanders: Build a Compassionate Nation

Photo of Bernie Sanders in front of Fight for $15 sign.

Photo: Gage Skidmore.

Over the past 40 years, corporate America and the billionaire class have been waging a war against the trade union movement in America, causing devastating harm to the middle class and working class.

When oligarchs like Donald Trump tell us that the economy is “booming,” they are right—the economy is booming for the extremely rich and extremely profitable corporations in America—who, by the way, pay nothing or next to nothing in federal income taxes.

Meanwhile, millions of working people of America can barely get by. Even before the pandemic hit, more than half of our people were living paycheck to paycheck, tens of millions had no health insurance, and 500,000 slept on the streets. Over the past three decades, the top 1% increased its net worth by over $22 trillion and the bottom 50 percent lost $776 billion—a massive, grotesque transfer of wealth.

But what should give us hope is that despite corporate, right-wing efforts to dismantle the power of working people at every opportunity, workers are fighting back, and the trade union movement has won many important victories in the past several years.


In 2018, tens of thousands of teachers across the country—from West Virginia, Oklahoma, and North Carolina to Illinois, Arizona, and Colorado—courageously went on strike to demand an end to the chronic underfunding of our schools, the wages and benefits they deserve, and a better future for our kids.

Just a few years ago, the idea of a $15 minimum wage was considered a “radical” idea, but workers organized to end poverty wages and won in state after state. Statewide $15 minimum wage legislation has passed in California, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland, and Connecticut—as well as in major cities like St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Seattle and many more municipalities, not to mention at massive corporations like Amazon and Target.

As we work together to make health care a right for all people, to take on the military industrial complex and end endless wars, to boldly address climate change, to end racism and all forms of bigotry, we must harness the momentum of the union movement in America today. With union membership at an all-time low in modern history, it has never been more important for us to make it easier for workers to join unions.

There are many concrete ways for us to do that, starting with passing my Workplace Democracy Act to protect the rights of workers everywhere to organize and live in dignity.



Give $10 a month or more and get our "Fight the Boss, Build the Union" T-shirt.

We must eliminate “Right to Work for Less” laws nationwide; end the misclassification of workers as independent contractors to deny them decent pay and benefits; give federal workers the right to strike; and deny federal contracts to employers that pay poverty wages, outsource jobs overseas, and engage in union busting.

There is clear evidence that union membership is good for workers: union workers earn 22 percent more, on average, than non-union workers; 72 percent of union workers have a defined-benefit pension plan compared to 14 percent of non-union workers; and union workers are half as likely to be victims of health and safety violations or of wage theft and 18 percent more likely to have health coverage than non-union workers.


In a larger sense, rebuilding the trade union movement in America will help us as we strive to build a compassionate nation based on justice for all. Here is how I see it: when your kids hurt, my kids hurt. When your family is struggling, that affects me as well.

No one person can win the fight against the corporate elite and powerful special interests alone. We will only succeed by standing together.

The moment we are in as a nation is unlike any other in history. We are dealing with a horrific pandemic and economic collapse. We are seeing massive protests against police brutality and a racist criminal justice system. We are watching the devastating effects of climate change unfold before our eyes.

To address these urgent issues and many more, we must rebuild the trade union movement and end corporate America’s stranglehold on our economy and our government. We must create the nation of, by, and for the working class that we know we can become.

Senator Bernie Sanders is a Labor Notes subscriber.

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes # 500. Don't miss an issue, subscribe today.