Workers return to strikes as best way to fight their fights their way


STRIKES ARE BACK. BIG TIME. More and more workers on every continent are walking off the job: 155,000 metalworkers in South Africa, thousands of GM workers in Brazil, 6000 nurses in Denmark, 700 emergency phone line operators in Spain, 2000 Uber drivers in Croatia and 100,000 workers in the USA—so many that they are calling it “Striketober.”

“You might say workers here have declared a national general strike,” said former USA Labour Secretary Robert Reich.

A virtual general strike

“No one calls it a general strike,” says Reich. “But in its own disorganized way it’s related to the organized strikes breaking out across the land—Hollywood TV and film crews, John Deere workers, Alabama coal miners, Nabisco workers, Kellogg workers, nurses in California, healthcare workers in Buffalo.”

The AFL-CIO posted a tweet on October 21 that lists 21 ongoing strikes in the USA including more than 24,000 nurses and other healthcare workers employed by the giant Kaiser Permanente corporation, about 10,000 workers at farm equipment manufacturer John Deere, 5,000 graduate assistants at Harvard University, 2,000 hospital workers in New York, 1,400 Kellogg plant workers in several states; 1,100 miners at Warrior Met Coal, and 75 symphony musician in San Antonio, Texas.
"It's a nationwide wave of worker solidarity that hasn't been seen since the glory days of union organizing in the 30s, 40s and 50s," tweeted  labour reporter Steve Kuzyk.

‘Unions are the solution’

One reminder of how effective strikes can be came with a recent strike by stagehands and theatre tech workers at North Shore Music Theatre  in Beverly, Massachusetts: the strike lasted just one day; the strikers won livable wages.

AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler told The Hill that the Striketober movement shows that with economic inequality “getting worse and worse... unions are the solution.”

“This is the capitalist system that has driven us to the brink,” Shuler said.

Unite Here, which represents 300,000 hospitality employees, expressed solidarity with the workers taking part in Striketober and urged them to see themselves as in a position of power.

“It is clear that we are in a significant moment for union organizing,” said the union. “What we cannot do is lose this moment. The so-called ‘labour shortage’—which we know is really just a shortage of jobs that pay us enough to live on—is a powerful bit of leverage workers have over employers right now.”

“You know what scares bosses?” added Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. “Worker solidarity. Striketober is terrifying the bosses.”

Community support key

The strike tsunami has not hit Canada yet. Statistics Canada data for the first six month of 2021 shows no spike in strike activity. However many workers continue to use strikes when needed to win the contracts they want. Daycare workers in Quebec, for example, have successfully used strikes to improve their position in ongoing contract negotiations.

“It’s going to take workers walking off the job in very serious numbers to create the kind of crisis that forces the capitalist class, the corporate elite in this country, to the table,” says labour super-organizer Jane McAlevey. But she says “workers isolated alone on picket lines” won’t make that happen.

“It’s only going to happen when the whole community begins to rise up and support them broadly.”

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