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Year of strikes: Why have so many workers joined the picket lines?

Health care workers at Kaiser Permanente, Hollywood writers and actors, hotel workers, school staff, UPS workers, automotive workers — across multiple industries, workers have left their jobs, grabbed signs, and marched, demanding higher living wages and better working conditions.

So, why now? 

“2023 has already been referred to as a ‘hot labor summer,’” said Kent Wong, professor and director at the UCLA Labor Center.    

“And indeed, we have seen unprecedented worker organizing, worker mobilization and worker strikes,” he added.  

The COVID-19 pandemic, in part, influenced the situation in which the country currently finds itself, Wong said.

“I do think that especially coming out of the three years of the pandemic, we have watched immense profits by corporations who have fared very well under the pandemic. And yet, the essential workers who have been on the front lines throughout the course of the pandemic, who put their lives at risk, have not seen a fair share at the bargaining table and in their paychecks,” he said. “So, I do think that this has really encouraged more workers to take decisive action by withholding their labor and going on strike.”

“What we have seen over the last year is that many of the strikes have been quite successful. The graduate students secured more than a 40% wage and benefit increase. The teachers and the classified workers of the LA Unified Schools District secured between a 21% to 30% wage increase,” he added. 

He said worker stoppages are a measure of last resort, and that no one wants to leave their jobs, lose a paycheck, or cause others to suffer financially.

He also acknowledged that there are workers who are not on strike but need certain industries for their work, but he believes workers are coming together in solidarity.   

“What we are seeing is that the solidarity actions. For example, SAG and the Writers Guild had not gone on strike together since 1960. We see in March the joint strike of the teachers and classified workers within the LA Unified School District. That had never happened before,” Wong said.  

A brief review of labor history provides more understanding.

Wong said the 1930s saw the introduction of labor laws and the National Labor Relations Act, which legalized the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining.   

“The reality is that if you look back in U.S. labor history, all of the major concessions that have been won by working people, that includes minimum wage, that includes health and safety benefits, paid vacation, paid sick days, pension, all of those were won through collective action. None of those were voluntarily turned over by the corporations,” he said.  

“What we see is that the solidarity we have witnessed over the last year will encourage more workers to stand in solidarity,” Wong added. “The basic lesson is solidarity works when workers stand together, when they organize together, when they make collective demands together, they are in a much stronger position than if they go it alone.”

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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