3 reasons labor strikes are surging right now – and why they could

Thousands of workers across the U. S. are currently on strike, demanding better wages, better working conditions and more benefits. In what some have called "Striketober," workers in factories as well as the health care and food industries have either started or authorized strikes in the past month. It comes after more than a year of working during the pandemic, and as millions of workers are quitting in what has been named the "Great Resignation". Joseph McCartin is a professor of history and the director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University. He spoke with NPR's All Things Considered about why so many American workers seem to be either striking or threatening to strike. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Ailsa Chang: Why exactly are we seeing so many strikes right now in particular? McCartin: One [reason] is that workers have just come through the pandemic and the economy is just beginning to improve. And usually, after a big crisis and when things begin to improve, workers can become more militant. I think the fact that this has coincided with the "Great Resignation" is also crucial because we've seen a tremendous upsurge in workers quitting jobs in the private sector. And that's unusual. In August, we set a record for such quits, and what I think that shows is there's a broad dissatisfaction that workers feel and that's giving workers who are organized more leverage. The third thing is that people see now that they have an administration in power that's really openly siding with workers and even taking positions in support of strikes. It's very unusual for cabinet members to visit strike picket lines. Could that mean that we will be seeing even more strikes soon? Strikes tend to breed strikes. If workers see that strikes are being effective, they're more likely to use the strike weapon. What makes this current wave of strikes significant or unique? I think one of the things that makes it unique is the post-pandemic context. The pandemic disrupted a lot of the status quo and labor management relations in a way that only happened, I think, three times in the 20th century — after both of the world wars and during the Great Depression. It was in each of those cases, by the way, that we saw a big upsurge in worker militancy. When the status quo gets upended, it changes workers' expectations. Coming out of World War II, workers had made sacrifices and they wanted rewards after the war. I think a similar feeling pervades the American workforce today. A lot of people sacrificed a lot in the past year — the essential workers, for example — and yet they're looking at a labor market that they feel still doesn't reward them as they feel they ought to be rewarded.

All data is taken from the source: http://npr.org
Article Link: https://www.npr.org/2021/11/02/1051112806/strikes-labor-great-resignation-covid

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