From hospitals to Hollywood, California to Massachusetts, workers are leveraging their labor to win better pay and safer working conditions, and topple systemic, long-standing inequities.
Many have dubbed the activism #Striketober as union and non-union employees across a variety of industries flex their collective power this month. They’re picking up where teacher unions left off.
“The pandemic has amplified the exploitive working conditions and precarity in our economy: the racialization and gendering of jobs, stagnating wages, attacks on unions, and the continued degradation of work,” said Jake Alimahomed-Wilson, CFA member and sociology professor at CSU Long Beach who researches labor and work. “After years of decline, the pandemic has simultaneously given rise to a new wave of worker resistance around the world. Strike activity is up, solidarity is growing, and workers are withholding their labor and confronting their bosses. Workers are angrier than ever and ready to fight.”
University of California lecturers just completed a week of informational picketing across the systems’ 10 campuses. UC-AFT members are inching toward a strike as contract negotiations over fair and reasonable job stability, compensation, and workload reach a standstill with UC management.
Over 400 teaching assistants at the Illinois State University have won their first Collective Bargaining Agreement after two long years of collective action and solidarity. The ISU Graduate Workers Union/SEIU 73 won salary increases ranging from 3 to 25 percent, as well as expanded protections against discrimination and guaranteed tuition waivers.
In announcing the agreement, the union said, “We are building a movement that reshapes Illinois State University into a place that actually works for the workers who make it work!”
Healthcare workers across California are organizing picket lines in their efforts to increase hospital staffing amid COVID-19 burnout and massive retirements.
And it appears a strike by 150,000 of entertainment workers and members of the International Alliance of Theatrical State Employees has been averted with an 11th-hour deal. In addition to bargaining for “bread-and-butter” items like a more equitable share of the million-dollar motion picture and television industries’ profits, IATSE members are also fighting for safer, more humane working conditions to eliminate sleep deprivation and other health concerns.
Another symbol of labor revolt is the 10,000 John Deere workers striking in plants across the Midwest. United Auto Workers union members are pushing back against a greedy company that benefits from the low-wage labor market; a company that saw revenues in the first three quarters of 2021 rise to $32.7 billion, up 11 percent from the same period in 2019 before the pandemic.
There are also stories of thousands of individual service workers walking off their job site or staying out of the job market altogether in the face of unfair labor conditions and pay, showing that labor power — whether organized or not — is at a historic moment.
Former U.S. Labor Secretary and UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich believes the painful pandemic has emboldened workers to fight for their worth, and the dignity of all workers.
“… These complaints have only grown louder, according to polls. For many, the pandemic was the last straw,” Reich wrote for The Guardian. “Workers are fed up, wiped out, done-in, and run down. In the wake of so much hardship, illness and death during the past year, they’re not going to take it anymore.”