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Wave of strikes shakes the United States, fueled by frustrations of the pandemic

Workers, nurses or entertainment workers, tens of thousands of American workers, tired by long hours of work during the pandemic and frustrated by the profits of their employers, have launched strike movements this fall.

If they do not reach an agreement with Hollywood studios on the adoption of a new collective agreement, the 60,000 members of the IATSE union, which represents film crews in the country, are scheduled to walk out on Monday, October 18.

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Some 31,000 employees of the Kaiser Permanente health group in the western United States are also threatening to cease work shortly.

Since Thursday, October 14, 10,000 employees of the tractor manufacturer John Deere have already been on strike; 1,400 at cereal maker Kellogg’s since Oct. 5, and over 2,000 employees at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo since Oct. 1.

“October strike”, a hashtag on social networks

Word ” Striketober “, contraction of “Strike” (strike) and october (October), appeared in hashtag (or hashtag) on ​​social networks. Democratic left-wing star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even put it on Twitter Thursday.

During the pandemic, to compensate for the many absent, ” we sacrificed time with our families, we missed the children’s games, the dinners, to make sure that the cereal boxes were in the stores ”says Dan Osborn, a mechanic with Kellogg’s for 18 years. ” And that’s how we are rewarded ? Asking us to make concessions even as the CEO and the big bosses give each other increases ? “, he is offended.

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This president of the local section of the BCTGM union, feels cheated. ” We are not asking for salary increases ”, he remarks. And employees don’t mind the long hours. But they oppose the generalization of a category of employees who do not have access to the same benefits and the abolition of the automatic adjustment of wages to the cost of living, an important point at a time when inflation is strong.

Strike ” will last as long as it takes, it suffices to hold out one day longer than the company ”, he said.

Contagion phenomenon

The strikers ” most of them claim an improvement in working conditions ”, notes Kate Bronfenbrenner, trade union specialist at Cornell University. ” Organizations are making more profits than ever and are asking employees to work more than ever, sometimes risking their lives with the Covid ”, she emphasizes.

But faced with employers refusing to compromise, employees ” are less inclined to accept collective agreements that do not meet their needs ”, she remarks.

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It is difficult to know the exact number of strikes, as the US government only lists those involving more than 1,000 workers. But the trend has clearly been on the rise since the teacher movement in West Virginia in 2018, says Josh Murray, a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University. Disappointed by the agreement negotiated by their union, the teachers decided to go on strike, obtaining satisfaction.

Then there was a phenomenon of contagion.

“The more strikes that succeed, the more that start, because people start to really believe that they can win and are willing to risk their wages or their jobs”says Josh Murray.

Awareness during the pandemic

The strike at Kellogg’s follows that in July of 600 employees in Kansas at a factory of Frito-Lay aperitif cakes, a subsidiary of PepsiCo. They had stopped work for 19 days to obtain, among other things, the guarantee of one day off per week and increases. The thousand strikers of Nabisco snacks (a subsidiary of the giant Mondelez) obtained concessions in September after five weeks of conflict.

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Another source of motivation, ” during the pandemic, these workers realized that they were essential, that the economy could not function without them ”, notes Josh Murray.

Unions have also benefited in recent years from the rise of various social movements with which they have been able to partner, such as the hospitality trade union in Arizona, Unite Here, with migrant organizations.

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“There will inevitably be a pendulum effect, companies will not let wage costs increase too much”, Josh Murray says. But meanwhile, ” economists and sociologists have shown that the tighter the labor market (as is currently the case in the United States), the more power workers have, the higher the probability of strikes.. “

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