As much as I support unions and efforts to improve labor rights, I find it hard to be 100% behind the recent strikes. I respect the reasoning behind them, but what about the nonunion workers and their families? And those in need of work. How is that fair? How can we favor the needs of one working-class group over another?
The decision to strike is a challenging thing to do. It’s not the first, second, or even third course of action but often a last-ditch effort when other bargaining tactics have failed.
Since U.S. labor laws are weak, withholding labor becomes a powerful tool for workers and is often the only option for us to exercise power and create change, but it comes with risks.
In the case of the writers and actors strike, this could be the pausing or termination of new or in-progress work, thus losing income not only for union and non-union writers and actors but also for the production and editing teams, costume and hair/makeup departments, etc.
So much emphasis is placed on workers to consider the effect the strike would have on the economy, their communities, and the American people, removing any culpability from the companies. It’s not fair that all these workers (who are most likely also struggling in these industries) are affected. Still, that burden of fairness should fall not on the strikers but rather on the companies, CEOS, stockholders, and top executives who created the conditions where workers felt like their only option to receive liveable wages, job security, safer work conditions, etc., was to risk everything they are fighting to get and protect.
We lose when we blame and criticize those fighting inequality over those perpetuating it because there’s nothing fair about working for poverty or unlivable wages while the CEO makes almost $30 million annually. Or dying or collapsing of heat exhaustion while working in vehicles without air conditioning during record heat waves. Or being expected to fill the duties of a 10-person team due to understaffing. Yet, workers (union and non-union) across all industries are often placed in these precarious situations and forced to deal with the fallout.
Two months after Congress and the Biden administration blocked a looming railroad strike, the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, occurred. Such a strike would have drawn nationwide attention to the safety concerns plaguing the industry that railroad workers and unions have warned about for years but were largely ignored in favor of profit margins.
Good labor practices benefit us all. But they don’t happen on their own.
The gains achieved by union efforts, be it from collective bargaining or strike, have a “spillover effect” that benefits non-union workers, including higher wages, safer working conditions, and better company standards. In 2021, non-union workers at John Deere received an 8% wage increase after a five-week strike by the United Auto Workers. When UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters reached an agreement on a new contract in August, it not only prevented a major strike but resulted in the agreement that vehicles would have air conditioning, the ending of two-tier employment, and the creation of more full-time positions, a win for both union and non-union workers.
Strikes are not easy on any worker, but they are meant to be disruptive.
And the best way to help end them, as supporters of all workers, is by showing solidarity for their cause and applying pressure on companies on a national or local scale (find local labor actions here). Amplify the message of striking workers on social media, sign petitions, walk the picket lines, donate to strike funds, and answer any other calls for support.