Image: Jared Cummings, Kellogg Union Members Appreciation Page (Facebook).
The class struggle is sharpening. Workers all across the country are striking and engaging in other job actions, large and small. Fed up with company attempts to impose two-tier wages, long hours, and inadequate pay, despite rising productivity and skyrocketing corporate profits, unions in several industries have had it. Now they’re marching on the picket lines. As late as last weekend, over 100,000 workers had voted to authorize strikes, and over 169 have occurred so far this year, the largest uptick since the wave of job actions in 2018–19. The AFL-CIO has aptly labeled this month #striketober.
There is deep anger, unrest, and growing militancy among the working class. Why? Companies want more while labor is repeatedly asked to do with less. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that “manufacturing sector labor productivity increased 8.0 percent in the second quarter of 2021, as output increased 5.5 percent and hours worked decreased 2.3 percent.”
Overall, productivity “grew an average of 3 per cent in the first half of 2021. Unit labour costs fell 0.8 per cent during the same period.”
But at what cost to the worker? Wages are too low to pay for the rising cost of housing, hours are too long to allow adequate time for caregiving, and lack of health care benefits force many to go to work sick. Workers are tired of supplying profits to billionaires like Jeff Bezos to fuel their rocket rides and egos.
As the nation emerges from the pandemic, literally millions are so dissatisfied that they’re simply quitting in what some have described as a silent general strike. “The seriousness of the situation was confirmed by the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report showing that a record 2.9 percent of the workforce quit their jobs in August, which is equivalent to 4.3 million resignations.”
According to one poll, ”employees were so dissatisfied with their situation that more than one-quarter (28%) of all respondents left their jobs without another job lined up.” One of the main reasons workers are leaving is burnout, cited by 40% of the poll respondents.
Big business is alarmed at the political significance of the resignations. The “Great Resignation,” Forbes writes, “is a sort of workers’ revolution and uprising against bad bosses and tone-deaf companies that refuse to pay well and take advantage of their staff.”
Contributing to the spike in labor activism is growing confidence in collective action and knowledge that you can strike and win. A glut in job openings despite still significant unemployment has improved the unions’ bargaining position and power. Pro-union sentiment among the broad public is at its highest level in several decades. A Gallup poll released in the beginning of July showed that 68% of Americans approve of labor unions, up significantly from the 48% approval in 2009 during the throes of the Great Recession. In this regard, the Biden-Harris administration’s pro-union stance should not be underestimated, not the least of which is reflected by new appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
The new general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, for example, has “signaled that she is willing to reconsider all kinds of twisted and outdated precedents that have vastly favored bosses during a nearly four-decades-long union-busting drive . . . she’s indicated a willingness to issue bargaining orders — not elections — for new unions when employers commit Unfair Labor Practices, to certify minority members-only bargaining units to help unions establish a foothold, and to be more creative about ‘make whole’ financial remedies for terminated union activists.”
As Peoplesworld.org reports, 10,000 workers at John Deere are among the latest to go out: “The strike wave that has hit John Deere has been building nationwide for more than a month. Last week Kellogg workers went on strike and over the summer Mondelez, the maker of Nabisco Oreos walked out. Coal miners in Alabama have been on strike for months.”
While uneven, the working class and people’s forces in local communities and workplaces are gathering in strength for the class and democratic battles that lie ahead. Today they’re focused on bread-and-butter issues of survival. But with the GOP blocking everything from strengthening voting rights to spending on climate change and human infrastructure, these economic struggles are becoming political. When that material force takes off and as the mid-terms loom — watch out.
Big days are coming. But it’s a mistake for friends of labor to sit around awaiting their arrival. Visit the picket lines and be sure to bring your walking shoes. A box of donuts and coffee would be appreciated but more important are the smiles and solidarity of friends. Talk, learn, listen, and afterwards share the experience. In so doing you’ll add to the growing class-consciousness and militancy that’s sweeping the nation. It will do everyone concerned a whole lot of good.
Building community support for striking workers is vital, calling on local politicians, clergy, and neighborhood leaders to lend solidarity. Letters to the editor along with social media campaigns can help build pro-strike sentiment. Community pickets at retail outlets and dealerships might also be helpful. Solidarity should also include boycotts and other forms of public pressure against companies that refuse to provide good wages, health care, working conditions and rights in the workplaces.
Yes, there’s a rising tide of struggle occurring deep within our class. Let’s give it our every support.
Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA (2019-). He is also a senior editor of People's World and loves biking.
This article was produced by CPUSA.