Newsletter #6: US Workers Are Pissed Off and Striking Back

By Michal Schatz

Is the United States in the middle of a strike wave? The question saturated news and social media throughout October, as US workers from disparate industries across the country did something very few workers have done in recent years: walked off the job.

We shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves in examining these walkoffs: relative to its historical corollaries like the Great Depression–era strikes that established the labor movement as we know it, or even the recent teachers strikes that kicked off in 2018, today’s strike wave is miniscule. Decades of neoliberal policies have gutted organized labor’s power and weakened workers’ strike muscles. But as Alex Press, Victor Bouzi, and Jonah Furman emphasize in this week’sDigepisode, the industrial actions sweeping the United States indicate a shift in workers’ sense of their own power.The urgent task for both union members and the Left is to understand what has led to this renewed worker confidence — and how to harness it to rebuild the labor movement.

Listen toThe Dig’sinterview with Alex Press, Victor Bouzi, and Jonah Furman here.

“Striketober” may be over, but the labor upsurge that kicked off last month isn’t: UAW members at John Deere shocked their management and union leaders when they rejected a second tentative contract agreementon November 2; Kellogg’s workers are in their second month of striking; and over 30,000 workers at Kaiser areon the brink of a strike. As Gabriel Winant and Jonah Furman recently highlighted inThe Intercept, workers in entertainment, manufacturing, the food industry, and beyond are no longer willing to work exorbitant hours for minimal pay while their companies’ profits skyrocket. For John Deere, Kaiser, and Kellogg’s workers, today’s labor demands are not simply about immediate material gains, but about correcting neoliberal policies like two-tier wage systems that have weakened unions for three decades and made compensation worse for workers across the United States.

We’re far from any credible declaration of unions’ revitalization. But if labor is going to rebuild power, it will take much more of the kind of militant action we’ve seen in recent weeks.

Further Reading

This interview is the latest addition to The Dig’s extensive archive of labor interviews. As Alex Press pointed outinJacobin, labor reporting largely disappeared from local and national media during the 1990s and 2000. But it has slowly been rebuilt in recent years, and the current strike surge has benefited from detailed reporting.

Jonah Furman has provided excellent coverage of the ongoing John Deere strike on his Substack Who Gets the Bird?and for Labor Notes, most recently writing about howworkers forced Deere management back to the table. For Jacobin, Alex Press has written extensively about the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees’ (IATSE) ongoing negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), showing that even before Halyna Hutchins was horrifically killed on the set of Rust due to poor labor conditions, many members were unsatisfiedwith the terms of AMPTP’s contract proposal. And inThe Nation, Dave Leshtz recently contextualized Deere workers’ fight in Iowa.