The Summer of Strikes


Summer of 2023 might need to go down in history as the Summer of the Strikes.

Can anyone remember the last time that one summer was so dominated by discussions about Organized Labor and strikes? The writers and performers on strike in Hollywood certainly dominated most of the headlines, but let’s not forget what else we heard about this summer.

TEAMSTERS LOCAL 688 held a practice picket action July 12 at the UPS center in Earth City in anticipation of the nationwide UPS contract expiration on July 31.

Teamsters driving for UPS came astonishingly close to the largest labor stoppage in decades and only a last-minute agreement kept the hard-working union members from dealing a massive blow to one of the nation’s largest delivery services. While UPS may have avoided the wrath of the Teamsters, Amazon certainly didn’t, and Teamsters took the fight to Amazon on behalf of drivers as part of their efforts to show how serious they were about using their collective power.

Last week, the General Motors plant in Wentzville saw all the members of United Auto Workers Local 2250 walk off the job. The UAW International staged strategic strikes at three facilities across the country, one affecting each major automaker. This comes as UAW and the major automakers failed to reach a new contract by the deadline last week. UAW took three facilities out on strike to demonstrate just how serious they are about a full-scale work stoppage.

UAW MEMBERS were in good spirits on the strike line on Friday, Sept. 15, the first day of a targeted strike against the Big Three automakers. – Labor Tribune photo

Right here in our own backyard, our union family at UFCW Local 88 authorized a possible strike earlier this summer as negotiations broke down with Schnucks. Fortunately, the employer and Local 88 were able to reach an agreement to avert a work stoppage, but the looming concern about picket lines going up in front of our hometown grocers had plenty of our Local 655 partners rattled.

Now, news has spread about the many ways union and non-union workers are finding ways to support unions on strike. It doesn’t hurt that Labor unions as a whole and strikes as well are both more popular with the public than they have been for decades. Many of the wealthiest actors in Hollywood have donated funds to keep the striking writers and actors, many of whom make less than $30,000 per year, able to afford picketing indefinitely.

I will be paying a visit to the picket line in Wentzville and bringing some supplies (probably in the form of some good food) to support their picket. I know I won’t be the only Labor leader to do so, or the only member of the public.

STARBUCKS BARISTAS at the Gravois and Rock Hill roads location went on strike on Labor Day over the company’s unfair Labor practices. The workers, represented by Starbucks Workers United, filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board and walked off the job in disgust Sept. 3.

For those of us that were around for the 2003 strike with our major grocery employers, we remember the outpouring of support from the Labor community and the larger community as a whole. Whether it was coffee to keep us warm and awake or a steady supply of pizza and other grub to keep our bellies full, the support from outside of our organization was key in keeping those picket lines going.

Just a few short years ago our partners at McKesson voted overwhelmingly to strike, and supplies and support from our friends and family in the Labor community was a vital resource. Even simply posting on social media or driving to the picket lines to voice your support goes a long way. Take it from someone who has been on plenty of picket lines in my many decades in the Labor Movement: it’s more than food and water that keeps you going – it’s hope.

TO PROTECT JOBS: Members of SAG-AFTRA are on strike to protect the jobs of over 160,000 actors and broadcasters whose work, among other issues, is threatened by the unfettered use of AI. – Katie McTiernan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Strikes are last resorts. It’s not a trigger ever to be pulled lightly, so watching workers willing to risk some temporary pain for the uncertainty of the picket line is both inspiring and frightening. These workers have placed their faith not just in their ability to secure a better life by withholding their labor but also with their leaders and the public as well. Choosing to strike when you and your employer are miles apart at the bargaining table is choosing to jump into waters even when you don’t know how deep they are and hoping you can swim even if they get choppy.

Workers across America have finally begun to embrace their own power again. The average worker can’t compete with the financial resources of their billionaire bosses. They can’t wield their influence to buy politicians and expensive lawyers. That worker can only be successful by linking arms with the workers on either side of them and standing together.

Money can get you pretty far in America, but the sheer force of millions of like-minded workers standing with you fighting for a better life can get you even further.

Collective action on a scale we have not seen in a long time may be the only way to tip the scales back in favor of the working people that built this country. Those scales have been tipped against us for decades, and only by uniting and acting together can we begin to bring back balance.

United we bargain. Divided we beg. Solidarity forever.

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