Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Remember the class struggle

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report, entitled Continued Surge in Strike Activity Signals Worker Dissatisfaction With Wage Growth, noted that the spike marked "a 35-year high for the number of workers involved in a major work stoppage over a two-year period." The jump in numbers, EPI explained, "is largely fueled by an increase in stoppages involving at least 20,000 workers." Key examples include public school teachers in North Carolina, West Virginia, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Kentucky and unionized workers at General Motors, Stop & Shop, the University of California, and AT&T. The data include only information on work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers that last at least one full shift

"Strike activity surged in 2018, with 485,200 workers involved in major work stoppages—a nearly twentyfold increase from 25,300 workers in 2017," according to the report, which cited data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). "The surge in strike activity continued in 2019, with 425,500 workers involved in major work stoppages."

EPI's report was highlighted on Twitter by Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, who declared that "We're just getting started. 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."

The report's co-author, by Heidi Shierholz, EPI's senior economist and director of policy, explained, "Even though we are 10 years into an economic recovery and the unemployment rate is under 4%, working people are still not seeing the kinds of robust wage growth that those at the top have seen for decades. 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 other author, Margaret Poydock, a policy associate at the think tank, pointed out 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." She also praised the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which passed the Democrat-majority U.S. House last week but is unlikely to be approved by the GOP-controlled Senate and Trump. "Corporate influence has eroded labor law and allowed worker protections to stagnate," said Poydock. "We need fundamental labor law reforms like the PRO Act in order to bring worker protections into the 21st century."

Along with the PRO Act, the EPI report promoted "additional solutions under discussion that would strengthen the right to strike, including extending unemployment benefits to striking workers, creating tax-deductible strike funds to make it easier for unions to sustain long-term strikes, and forming digital picket lines to inform consumers of real-life collective actions during online interactions with the workers' employer."

The Dow is at a record high and unemployment rates are lower than they have been in decades – but 140 million people are also poor or low wealth.  Sixty per cent of African Americans are poor or low-income, as are 64% of Hispanics, but the largest single racial group among America’s poor and low-income – 66 million Americans – are white.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, explained:
"Yes, the Dow is at a record high and official unemployment rates are lower than they have been in decades. 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."
Workers know solidarity is the best way to fight back.

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