Consider this: the month with the highest percentage of workers out on strike in the last 20 years was, as mentioned above, August of 1997. The average month between 1976 and 1979 had a higher percentage of workers out on strike than August of 1997. To repeat: the average month from 1976 to 1979 had more striking workers than the largest month of striking in the last 20 years. If that doesn’t drive home how much the frequency of striking has fallen, nothing will.Labor Strike Dataset | Matt Bruenig
The 800 clerical workers on strike have shut down 10 of 14 terminals of the country’s most heavily trafficked port complex. Several thousand dockworkers in Los Angeles and Long Beach have refused to cross picket lines.
With concern in the corporate and political establishment growing over the financial fallout from the port closures—estimated to be as much as a billion dollars a day—leading Democratic politicians are dropping their phony claims of support and openly threatening the striking workers. Los Angeles Mayor Villagairosa warned the union leadership, “This cannot continue…The cost is too great to continue down this failed road.”
Corporations that depend on the major shipping lines affected by the strike have been pressing for the White House to intervene. In 2002, President Bush sought a court order ending a strike on the West Coast. While the Obama administration has not yet intervened, there is no doubt the Democratic Party is carrying out behind-the-scenes efforts to press the ILWU for a quick agreement.
… The employers are seeking to roll back an 80-year-old precedent and begin hiring non-union workers on the West Coast again. Under these conditions, the ongoing actions of the clerical workers can easily spread beyond Los Angeles and beyond the control of the unions.
Police and protesters clashed in Spain, Italy and Portugal on Wednesday as millions of workers went on strike in organized labor’s biggest Europe-wide challenge to austerity policies since the euro zone debt crisis erupted three years ago.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled, schools were shut, factories were at a standstill and trains barely ran in Spain and Portugal where unions held their first joint general strike. Stoppages in Belgium interrupted international rail services.
Workers also protested in Greece and France against austerity policies that have taken a heavy economic toll and aggravated mass unemployment.
The meeting of two or three thousand European activists and trades unionists in Florence headlined ‘Firenze 10 + 10’ has been lifted by plans for a united day of action across Europe. Wednesday November 14th will mark a breakthrough in the struggle against austerity in Europe. There will be co-ordinated general strikes in Portugal, Greece and Spain and significant strikes and solidarity actions in many other countries. The CGIL union in Italy, for example, an organisation of nearly six million, has announced a strike of all its members around the country.
This is a historic and crucial development. There have been other European days of action and joint protests in Brussels and elsewhere, but this will be the first time since the great anti-war protests nearly ten years ago that this level of co-ordination has taken place across borders. It is the first time that general strikes have been organised simultaneously.
The joint action arose originally from strike plans in Portugal, where the movement is gathering strength. It was taken up by the unions in Spain under popular pressure. Significantly the European Trade Union Confederation, normally hesitant to challenge the EU head on, has backed the action. Militants gathered in Florence for Firenze 10 + 10 are unanimously convinced of its importance.
In Chicago, some 18,000 teachers and their supporters rallied on Labor Day ahead of a possible strike next week that could see more than 26,000 teachers and other school workers walk off the job. The Chicago Teachers Union is attempting to negotiate a fair contract with the nation’s third-largest school district. The union remains concerned about issues including pay, a controversial new evaluation process for teachers, and the possible closure of as many as 100 schools. Chicago Teachers Rally Ahead of Potential Strike | Democracy Now!
Chicago public school teachers have voted overwhelmingly to give their union the authority to strike if contract negotiations with the city break down this summer - a move the head of the schools called “a shame.”
Nearly 90 percent of the Chicago Teachers Union rank-and-file members voted to authorize a strike, exceeding the required 75 percent, the union said on Monday. A strike would affect more than 400,000 students.
The strike authorization vote allows the union representing 21,000 teachers to call a strike in the event contract negotiations falter. Chicago teachers last went on strike in 1987 for four weeks.
I opt here to discuss just one facet of [Joe] Burn’s book [Reviving the Strike]: his first principle of labor rights. In Chapter 7 of the book, Burns argues that labor activists should rely, both philosophically and rhetorically, on the principle that “labor is not a commodity.” Drawing upon the speeches of notable labor leaders like Samuel Gompers and Walter Reuther, Burns makes the case that a labor movement which accepts the idea that labor is merely a commodity to be bought and sold on the market immediately reduces its role to mere wage-bargaining.
By conceding the commodification of labor, unions implicitly accept the idea that “once workers sell their labor, they have no further interest in the enterprise, as the employer now owns the final product and all profits derived from its sale.” But, according to Burns, this should not be aim of union organizing. Unions should stand for the principle that workers do have a stake in their workplaces, and that management and owners do not have the only legitimate say in the direction and functioning of any particular enterprise. Under that principle, workers that halt production do so justly: it is their workplace just as much as it is management’s, if not more so.
Further, according to Burns, labor commodification functions as a form of social control. Unlike other commodities — soybeans, lumber, and steel for example — labor consists of the actions of human beings with moral importance and lived experiences. The majority of an adult’s waking hours are spent laboring, and if we stand for the principle that labor is merely a commodity to be controlled by its owner, then management and shareholders are free to dominate and control individuals during the majority of their waking lives. Given the profound immorality of such an idea, Burns argues that labor leaders should flatly reject the commodity status of labor, and consequently the idea that “the market should govern every sphere of human activity.”
A 12-hour occupation by workers at a Chicago factory on February 23 won an agreement that will save workers’ jobs for at least three months so they can seek other ways to keep their plant open and producing.
The factory on the northwest side of the city is the former Republic Windows & Doors plant, where union members occupied for a week in December 2008 after the previous owners and their financial backers, Bank of America, announced without warning that the factory was closing.
That struggle electrified the local and national labor movement, causing an outpouring of solidarity that stunned the bosses and bankers. After six days of the occupation, management caved. A new owner who promised to continue operations took over, and the Republic factory became Serious Energy.
On Thursday afternoon, the same workers whose courage three years ago inspired people around the country again heard that the next day would be their last day of work. They again turned to the tactic of the great labor struggles of the 1930s and occupied the factory.
But this time, they won a concession that saves their jobs for now before the dawn of the next day. Around 2 a.m.—with snow flurries starting to fall that brought back memories of the 2008 occupation—the 60 members of United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 1110 who remained inside the plant proudly marched out, fists held high, after an agreement was reached.
UE Local 1110 President Armando Robles, who led the 2008 occupation, told the crowd of supporters who assembled as soon as they heard about the new takeover: “We got more than we expected. Now we have 90 days to work and try to get somebody else to buy the company, with the possibility of the workers run it under our own banner.”
Quick question: Were the sit-downs a triumph of “violent” or “nonviolent” tactics? Answer: Both. The leverage of sit-down strikers depends in large part on the implicit or explicit threat to destroy factory property should a raid occur. From Flint in 1936 to the May 1968 general strike in France to the 1980 Solidarity strike in Poland, this threat has been prepared carefully. Further, the GM strike wave triumphed in part by defeating a police intervention when workers fought back, an incident that became known as the Battle of the Running Bulls.Debating Tactics: Remember to Ask, “What Works?”
Hundreds of workers, many of them women, at a Singapore-owned electronics factory in Shanghai have been on strike for more than a week over plans to relocate the plant to the outskirts of the city. They want to be compensated if the factory moves, as they face journeys of up to one and a half hours a day on top of very long shifts, sometimes 20 hours long, and many do not want to make the move.
The management is taking a hard line and threatening to sack any workers who do not return to work within three days and refusing to pay compensation even though many of the workers have been at the factory for years. The workers have been picketing the factory, attempting to block the removal of heavy equipment, and hundreds of police moved in on Tuesday to arrest them.
This strike is not an isolated event: workers frequently strike in China, and there is currently a wave of action taking place both in the Shanghai region and in the Pearl River Delta industrial area. In Taicang, near Shanghai, there is a continuing strike at a Japanese-owned electronics factory over the abuse of a Chinese worker by a Japanese manager, while in Shenzhen in the Pearl River Delta, more than 1,000 workers have been on strike for 6 days against plans to relocate a circuit-board factory, owned by a Hong Kong based company, to a more remote area, without paying compensation. Last month, over 10,000 workers were involved in strikes in Shenzhen and Dongguan over cuts to overtime, which is essential for them to survive as their basic pay is so low.
These disputes are symptoms of deep problems affecting the Chinese economy, with employers trying to cut costs in the face of the world economic crisis, attempting to make workers pay either through worsening conditions or by moving production to ever-cheaper areas.
Today, the incomes of working people are declining, those of the rich are skyrocketing, but federal and state governments are nevertheless aiming their fire at working people, demanding pension cuts, wage cuts, layoffs, and cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, and social services. These cuts will only accelerate the inequalities in wealth. Now more than ever, organized labor needs to step up, reclaim its glories from its past, and mount a major campaign to oppose these attacks and demand that the government institute job-creation programs.
In this way the growing inequalities in wealth could be reversed. As a first step, organized labor should organize massive demonstrations in major cities across the country on Labor Day to raise these demands. Working people strongly oppose these cuts and desperately want job-creation programs. They would enthusiastically welcome such a campaign. And with the labor movement in the lead, working people could once again make history.