US workers gain muscle with biggest strike wave in decades

10,000 farm equipment manufacturer workers John Deere, for example, they went on strike this week. They have approved to authorize the strike 24,000 nurses and other medical workers in California and Oregon of Kaiser Permanente and for weeks more than 2,000 hospital employees in Buffalo (New York), 1,400 workers in cereal factories have already begun their work stoppages Kellogg in four states, 500 workers distilleries in Kentucky and members of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra (Roof tiles). Over 1,000 miners In Alabama, they have been on strike since April and at the end of September the nearly 1,000 employees of the cookie manufacturer returned to work after five weeks of protest. Nabisco that, with their strike in five states, they managed to get their new collective agreement to include many of their demands. This Saturday, just over a day before a strike by 60,000 workers in the audiovisual industry began that would have paralyzed practically all film and television shootings in the country, the leaders of the IATSE union announced an agreement that satisfies their demands for their affiliates in Hollywood and the West Coast.

To that powerful ola, which according to a database maintained by Cornell University reflects more than 160 strikes and work stoppages so far this year in the US, what has been dubbed “the great resignation“, the negative from millions of Americans to resume jobs and working conditions they had before the coronavirus shook the country (a record of 4.3 million in August, almost 3% of the labor force).

At a time when it has unbalanced job market, with companies unable to find workers for all the positions they need to reactivate what the reinforced demand demands, workers, both union members and those of the “great resignation”, they get muscle.

Seismic moment

“The great strike” and “the great resignation”, which put in check companies that have continued to obtain big benefits in the pandemic but maintain the uneven distribution, link to the story, as explained Jack Rasmus, Ph.D. in political economy and professor at St. Mary’s College in California, who notes that “it is very typical when you start to come out of a crisis that the workers feel more confident to go on strike. “It already happened after other seismic events like the Great Recession and around World War II. And it happens again in the pandemic.

“We are seeing workers from across the economy expressing that are unwilling to work under intolerable conditions and their growing willingness to fight for a better life“, ratifiedto Benjamin Sachs, Professor of Labor and Industry at Harvard. “If I were a manager I would be very concerned about not responding to these demands.”

“Companies have to be aware that workers at this time are in a good position of influence to make demands on protections and salaries “, also coincides Mark Gaston Pearce, the director of the Georgetown University Workers’ Rights Institute and president during Barack Obama’s term of the National Labor Relations Board. “The old notions that the company is going to force you to accept a cut in health coverage or reduce your pension benefits they won’t work now because they need these workers. ”

Support to unions

This wave also comes when improves opinion that Americans have of the unions and the strength of these. For decades weakened by aggressive policies of harassment and demolition of the Republicans and weighed down by their own mistakes and concessions, the affiliations in the private sector are at their lowest level in a century, just over 6%. But now, in Pearce’s words, “they are being Celebrated as the vanguard and protectors of the workers“and the polls corroborate it. In July, a Gallup poll showed the rate of approval of unions in the 68%, its highest level in 50 years. Youth affiliations grow.

Both Sachs and Pearce also see the rise of protests linked to the presence in the White House of Joe Biden, widely considered a pro-worker president. Rasmus, a former union leader, is much more critical of the president and what he calls “the corporate wing of the Democratic Party.”

Possible turning point

Some and others see the moment as a chance. “America desperately needs a labor law system,” says Sachs. “It is a tragedy that we do not have a legal system that supports the right of workers to form or join unions. But when workers strike is often when changes happen, and maybe this wave of strikes is what we need to move this country towards a fairer system of labor lawl, “he says.

Rasmus also thinks that what is happening, “It could be a turning point because conditions have been so bad for so long that it could be the beginning of something “but he cautions that”the ability of companies to hit back should not be underestimated“and stop both strikes and renewed union organizing efforts.” The laws in the US are anti-union and anti-labor, “he recalls.” The working class is more desperate and angry but you have the institutions above, including parties, and the legal structure, they are a great instrument to control everything“.


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