‘Trump’s economy is not a workers’ economy, and workers know solidarity is the best way to fight back.’
By TIM ROWDEN
Despite President Donald Trump’s frequent and dishonest claims that the U.S. economy is “roaring” and his “relentlessly pro-worker” agenda is serving the American public, the “number of striking workers surged in 2018 and 2019” to a 35-year high.
Data on major work stoppages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — including new 2019 data released last week — show a substantial upsurge in 2018 and 2019, with 485,000 workers involved in major work stoppages in 2018 and 425,500 workers involved in major stoppages in 2019.
By comparison, only 25,300 workers were involved in work stoppages in 2017, Trump’s first year in office.
“These strike statistics represent nothing less than a sea change in America.,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “Working people — completely fed up with an economic and political system that does not work for us — are turning to each other and using every tool at our disposal to win a better deal.”
The statistics expose the yawning gap that exists between the conditions enjoyed by those at the top and the economic realities faced by working people.
“Even though we are 10 years into an economic recovery and the unemployment rate is under four percent, working people are still not seeing the kinds of robust wage growth that those at the top have seen for decades,” said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy for the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which released a report on the strike numbers.
“The increase in strike numbers shows that workers understand that joining together in collective action remains an effective way to raise wages and benefits, and improve working conditions.”
The BLS data on work stoppages, while useful, is incomplete, EPI reports, because the data includes only information on work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers that last at least one full shift. For example, EPI said, the data does not include the 2018 Google walkouts in protest of the company’s handling of sexual harassment, because even though the walkouts involved thousands of workers, they did not last for one full shift.
2019 STRIKE ACTIONS
There were 10 work stoppages involving at least 20,000 workers in 2019. The largest involved nearly 50,000 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) who walked out of General Motors factories across the country with the goal of preserving job security, improving wages, retaining health care benefits and transitioning long-term “temporary” workers to permanent positions. The six-week strike ended with a UAW contract that improved wages, stayed health care costs and committed investments for American factories.
Another 30,000 workers went on strike in 2019 at Stop & Shop, a New England-based grocery chain, over a drastic increase in health care costs. The 11-day strike concluded with the United Food and Commercial Workers and Stop & Shop agreeing to a contract that preserved health care benefits, increased wages and maintained time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current employees.
Locally, some 4,500 UAW Local 2250 members were involved in the nationwide strike against GM.
In addition, 52 members of Machinists District 9 Lodge 313 waged a two-month strike against Laura Buick GMC in Collinsville, Ill., before agreeing to five-year contract in December that includes substantial wage increases in each year.
Already this year, SEIU Local 1 St. Louis janitors and their supporters braved cold temperatures and arrest Jan. 27 in a rally, march and act of civil disobedience leading to 17 arrests in their fight for a fair contract. Janitors authorized a strike Jan. 30, before winning a strong new three-year contract, covering 2,100 janitors, that includes historic raises and better benefits.
‘WE’RE JUST GETTING STARTED’
“We’re just getting started,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said on Twitter. “Cheers to all the strikers who are showing us the way. Workers have power. Not alone, but in action together. Solidarity is the way forward.”
EPI Policy Associate Margaret Poydock noted that “The resurgence in recent strike activity has occurred despite current policy that makes it difficult for many workers to effectively engage in their fundamental right to strike.”
Poydock praised the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which recently passed the Democrat-majority U.S. House but is unlikely to be approved by the GOP-controlled Senate.
“Corporate influence has eroded Labor law and allowed worker protections to stagnate,” Poydock said. “We need fundamental Labor law reforms like the PRO Act in order to bring worker protections into the 21st century.”
Truthout reporter Mike Ludwig, who linked to the EPI findings in a tweet, wrote that “Trump’s economy is not a workers’ economy, and workers know solidarity is the best way to fight back.”
‘YEARS OF ECONOMIC DECAY’
During his State of the Union speech on Feb. 4, Trump declared that “jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting,” and “the years of economic decay are over.” The president added that “our economy is the best it has ever been,” and discussed the state of U.S. stock markets in his first term.
In response to the president’s annual address, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, wrote in an op-ed for the Guardian that “of all the lies he told, the president is proudest of the economy he claims is booming. Poor and low-income Americans know that the economy is, in fact, his greatest vulnerability.
“Yes, the Dow is at a record high and official unemployment rates are lower than they have been in decades,” Barber wrote. “But measuring the health of the economy by these stats is like measuring the 19th-century’s plantation economy by the price of cotton. However much the slaveholders profited, enslaved people and the poor white farmers whose wages were stifled by free labor did not see the benefits of the boom.
“We know that elites whose stock portfolios and personal taxes have benefited from the Trump tax cuts are going to stand by this president,” Barber said. “But those people are an extreme minority — a literal plutocracy — in this nation. The question in 2020 is not whether Trump’s most ardent supporters will stand by him, but whether Democrats will embrace an agenda that can inspire poor and marginalized people to engage in a political system that has simply overlooked them for decades.”