Strikes Threaten US Economy

strikes threaten us economy

strikes threaten us economy

With the potential for up to four high-profile strikes and a level of coordination among different unions that experts say has been lacking in recent years, the labor movement in the United States is experiencing an unusually active period.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) went on strike last week after the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which represents screenwriters for film and television, did so in May. A near-total halt has been reached in American film and television production due to the two factors combined.

Even though labor unrest in Hollywood has gotten a lot of attention from the media, it hasn’t had a significant effect on most Americans’ daily lives. That won’t be the case if two other large unions, both of which are negotiating contracts right now, also go on strike.

The so-called Big Three automakers, General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, are in talks with the United Auto Workers union (UAW) to prevent a strike that could see hundreds of thousands of autoworkers walk off the job. The Teamsters Union is also negotiating a new delivery driver contract with United Parcel Service, a major shipping company. The entire United States would be severely affected by either or both strikes.

A shifting environment

For several decades, the labor movement in the US has been experiencing a protracted decline. In the middle of the 20th century, more than one-third of American workers belonged to unions, and it was common to witness thousands of strikes each year, with millions of workers in various industries taking a temporary leave of absence from their jobs.

At the height of labor job actions in 1974, there were 6,074 distinct strikes nationwide, according to data gathered by Judith Stepan-Norris and Jasmine Kerrissey for their new book, Union Booms, and Busts: The Ongoing Fight Over the U.S. Labour Movement.

As employer legal protections grew stronger and the courts became less pro-labor, that started to decline in the 1980s. In addition to many workers losing a significant source of income during their work stoppages, strikes are increasingly ending with little to no benefits for the workers involved. The number of strikes in the US decreased by 2014 to just 68 as union membership fell. Only 6% of working Americans are union members today.

There are several things that, according to Stepan-Norris, an emerita professor of sociology at the University of California-Irvine, that appear to be energizing the movement in 2023. According to her, a trend of people quitting their jobs, which many have dubbed the “Great Resignation,” and the coronavirus pandemic both significantly altered the environment.

That increased worker power. With a low unemployment rate, the labor market was more robust, according to Stepan-Norris.

They have also had recent examples of successful strikes, she added. For instance, academic employees led a significant strike against the University of California system last year, which led to significant labor concessions.

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She claimed that other workers are seeing that these strikes are yielding positive results for people, giving them hope that they, too, can achieve change through collective action. None of the recent successes can be directly linked to that, it’s just the way things are around them.

Lateral solidarity

Cross-union cooperation has been present in recent labor actions, according to Susan Schurman, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University, who spoke with VOA.

SAG-AFTRA “didn’t even show up” when the Writers Guild last went on strike, according to Schurman. This time, I attended a few rallies in New York where actors from Actors Equity were present. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the stagehands, were present. There were Teamsters present. There were members of the Communication Workers of America. The construction trades were present.

According to Schurman, this is what is known as “horizontal labor solidarity” among unions. “At this point, labor benefits”. You must have what we refer to as “vertical solidarity” within your union. To participate in a strike, you must have that. But it’s insufficient. You need the backing of other unions.

She claimed that while horizontal solidarity was prevalent in the middle of the 20th century, it has not played a significant role in labor job actions for several decades.

They haven’t seen weather like this summer in a very long time, she said.

Autoworkers’ conflict

The current contracts with GM, Ford, and Stellantis are all set to expire in September, and the UAW has a long history of going on strike to secure better contracts for its members.

The UAW’s president, Shawn Fain, declared last week that his 160,000 members are ready to put down their tools and that management at the companies will be held accountable for any work stoppage.

He recently told reporters, “If the Big Three don’t give us our fair share, then they’re choosing to strike themselves, and we’re not afraid to take action”.

Given how heated the discussions have grown, Fain defied convention and declined to shake hands publicly with company executives as negotiations began, as other UAW leaders have done.

The automakers have stated their desire to reach an agreement. Still, they have also noted that they are attempting to restructure their businesses in preparation for a future in which electric vehicles are anticipated to displace a large portion of the gasoline-powered cars and trucks they currently produce. They issue a warning that the change will inevitably cause their workforce to experience disruptions.

Unions and UPS employees

340,000 UPS employees, who are members of the Teamsters union, plan to strike on August 1. The compensation for workers is the main topic of the contract negotiations, which broke down in early July and only started again this week.

One crucial aspect is that the business has had to increase the starting salaries it offers to recruit more workers as the labor market has become more competitive over the past year. It did not, however, also increase the pay for many of its more seasoned employees. This indicates that some UPS employees with years of experience are being paid at a level comparable to new hires.

The think tank Anderson Economic Group calculated that a 10-day stoppage would cost upwards of $7 billion when workers’ lost pay, the company’s lost profits, and damage to UPS customers are combined. This suggests that a strike by UPS employees could have a negative economic impact.

The delivery company emphasized the demand for an immediate resolution to the issue in a statement that accompanied the announcement that it would return to the negotiating table.

She claimed that other workers are seeing that these strikes are yielding positive results for people, giving them hope that they, too, can achieve change through collective action. None of the recent successes can be directly linked to that, it’s just the way things are around them.

About Wrighter

Wrighter covers news across the global on Human Rights, Migrants Rights, and Labor Rights. Wrighter has vast experience in writing and is a doctor by profession.

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