Social anger is roaring across the Atlantic. Workers, nurses … Tens of thousands of American employees, tired by long hours of work during the Covid-19 pandemic and frustrated with the profits of their employers, have launched strike movements this fall. The word “Striketober”, a contraction of “strike” and “October”, has appeared on social networks. The star of the left wing of the Democratic Party, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, even put it forward last Thursday on Twitter. From heavy industry to health and agrifood, all sectors are affected by this movement which “could mark a new chapter in the history of American labor,” says the media Business Insider.
These protest movements will also serve as a test for the White House, as President Joe Biden has repeatedly identified himself as the unions’ greatest ally. This will therefore be an opportunity to prove his good faith. A total of 31,000 employees of the Kaiser Permanente health group in the western United States are threatening to cease work soon – fourteen hospitals and hundreds of clinics in Southern California and Hawaii could be hit. Since Thursday, 10,000 employees of the tractor manufacturer John Deere have already been on strike; 1,400 at cereal maker Kellogg’s since Oct. 5, and over 2,000 employees at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo since Oct. 1. In Hollywood, a strike by film crews that threatened to paralyze from Monday the American film industry was narrowly avoided at the weekend, with the conclusion of an agreement on the working conditions of these technical employees. .
During the pandemic, to compensate for the many absent, “we sacrificed time with our families, we missed the children’s matches, the dinners, to ensure that the cereal boxes are in the stores”, says Dan Osborn, mechanic with Kellogg’s for 18 years. “And is that how we are rewarded? By asking us to make concessions even as the CEO and the big bosses agree to increases?”, He is offended. This president of the local section of the BCTGM union feels cheated. “We are not asking for salary increases,” he said. On Twitter, US Senator Bernie Sanders showed his support for the strikers, recalling that “Kellogg’s has made record profits and is paying its CEO $ 12 million in compensation.”
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If employees do not balk at long hours, they oppose the generalization of a category of employees who do not have access to the same benefits and the abolition of the automatic adjustment of wages to the cost of living, a important point when l’inflation is strong. The strike “will last as long as it takes, it suffices to hold out one day longer than the company”, continues Dan Osborne. Among the demands of the strikers, the improvement of working conditions comes first. “Organizations are making more profits than ever and are asking employees to work more than ever, sometimes risking their lives with the Covid,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, specialist in labor movements at Cornell University. But faced with employers refusing to compromise, employees “are less inclined to accept collective agreements that do not meet their needs,” she notes.
A contagion effect
Moreover, it is difficult to know the exact number of strikes, the US government only listing those involving more than 1,000 employees. But the trend has clearly been on the rise since the teachers’ movement in West Virginia in 2018, says Josh Murray, professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University. Disappointed by the agreement negotiated by their union, the teachers decided to go on strike, obtaining satisfaction. Then there was a phenomenon of contagion. “The more strikes that succeed, the more strikes that start, because people start to really believe that they can win and are willing to risk their wages or their jobs,” says Josh Murray.
The strike at Kellogg’s follows that in July of 600 employees in Kansas at a factory of Frito-Lay aperitif cakes, a subsidiary of PepsiCo. They had stopped work for 19 days to obtain, among other things, the guarantee of one day off per week and increases. The thousand strikers of Nabisco snacks (a subsidiary of the giant Mondelez) obtained concessions in September after five weeks of conflict. Mike Mitchell, director of policy and research at Groundwork Collaborative, told Business Insider that the strikes reflected a “huge and significant transfer of power from workers to corporations and businesses”.
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During the pandemic, American workers realized they were essential. The unions have also benefited, in recent years, from the rise of various social movements with which they have been able to partner, such as the hospitality trade union in Arizona, Unite Here, with migrant organizations. “There will inevitably be a pendulum effect, companies are not going to let wage costs increase too much,” continues Josh Murray. But in the meantime, “economists and sociologists have shown that the tighter the labor market is [comme c’est le cas actuellement aux Etats-Unis], the more power the workers have, the higher the probability of strikes “.