By Juan Pablo Pardo
The last few weeks were full of substantial developments for the United States’ labor movement. The UAW strike still develops and now involves more than 25 thousand workers, even forcing Biden to take a stand. At the time of writing, 75 thousand of Kaiser Permanente’s employees have joined their historic strike, marking the largest healthcare workers’ strike in U.S. history. Meanwhile, the writers’ guild along with precarious workers from Starbucks, app-based delivery, fast food achieved significant victories
The wave of labor struggle in the country shows no signs of stopping. The automotive strike is intensifying, with an increase in the number of strikers, now totaling more than 25,000 workers, and also suffering from employer attacks, resulting in hundreds of layoffs in the sector. Meanwhile, the coalition of 8 unions representing Kaiser Permanente workers, the largest provider of private healthcare in the U.S., entered a three-day strike this past Wednesday, October 4th, which could expand in November when another of the company’s contracts expires.
In addition, 53,000 workers from Las Vegas’ hotels and casinos voted at the end of September to authorize their union to call a strike that could be triggered at any moment.
The past few weeks have also brought significant victories in various worker sectors. Firstly, screenwriters achieved a very important agreement following a historic 148-day strike, where the actor’s guild participation in the struggle was a key to the their success. At the moment of writing, actors remain on strike.
On the other hand, Starbucks workers dealt a blow to the company’s union busting strategy, which had been paying higher wages to non-unionized stores. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled against the employer, demanding equal pay for unionized stores.
In California, fast food workers achieved a historic victory, reflecting over a decade of the ‘Fight For 15’ movement. At the end of September, the governor signed the law that gives a minimum wage increase for the sector, raising it to $20 per hour (an increase of over 20%). Additionally, this law established the first ‘Fast Food Council’ with worker representation, where wage increases and working conditions would be discussed. This was perceived as a significant triumph by the workers, as they now have a voice in their working conditions for the first time, although it’s highly likely that this ‘Council’ may seek to limit their demands.
In New York, gig workers for delivery apps had a victory with the Supreme Court ruling in their favor, confirming a victory from months ago. This ruling mandates that platform companies like Uber, Doordash, and Grubhub must pay a minimum wage of $17.96 per hour.
The labor movement at the center stage
Today, it’s undeniable that many of the major political developments in the United States are closely tied to the labor movement. To illustrate this, the automotive strike has taken center stage in the national debate, with the direct participation of the U.S. President, Joe Biden, in one of the picket lines. This marked the first time in history that a U.S. president has done so. However, it’s clear that his involvement, as well as his statements about being a “pro-union president,” are a clear case of cynicism aimed at securing votes for next year’s elections, especially from the working-class voters.
For the same reason, two days later, Donald Trump visited another auto parts factory (though one that was non-unionized and at the invitation of the management) to declare that he “won’t allow the automotive industry to die.” However, he didn’t specifically address the strike, neither in favor (obviously) nor against it, a stance clearly motivated by the strong sympathy generated by the workers’ demands.
As we mentioned at the beginning, 2023 became the year with the highest number of strikers since the 1980s, after Kaiser Permanente’s strike. However, one might wonder, why is there so much labor activity? One of the major factors in the global economy comes into play here, and that is inflation, which puts immense pressure on workers’ living conditions and fuels their demands for better conditions. This element is compounded by the experiences of how companies took advantage of the pandemic to multiply their super-profits while suppressing worker wages. This is what is expressed in demands like the UAW’s, which is seeking a 40% wage increase because, while wages have lagged behind inflation, company profits and CEO salaries have multiplied like never before.
It’s clear that a process of reinvigoration of the American working class is in progress, and this is a significant leftward counterbalance in the global context. Despite starting from a very low point, it’s a reality that is emerging everywhere: it’s almost literal that new workplaces are voting to form unions nearly every day. Today, 65% of the U.S. population views unions positively, which marks a tremendous change from 40 years ago. The emergence of unions reflects the struggle for the right to organize for the working class, something that was entirely off the table.
Certainly, the process is primarily about workers’ rights and union activity, and the leap toward greater political awareness is challenging. However, none of this in any way denies that it’s an immensely progressive process. The fact that the enormous working class of a country like the United States is beginning to rise up, to demand, even winning disputes, to generate new leaders, and above all, to mobilize thousands of workers can only have a positive impact.
The defense of the right to organize as a class and the fight against our class enemies, the bourgeoisie, are an incredibly important starting point. Then, it must continue by removing all obstacles, such as bureaucratic leaders, and relying on the workers’ own strength as the foundation for victory. Above all, it’s crucial to overcome the pitfalls of the Democratic Party and figures like Biden, who seek to exploit unions to strengthen themselves electorally while governing for the business interests and impeding independent worker organization. This is why the building of our own party, one of the working class, socialist, and anti-capitalist, is fundamental, and can offer a path for all the exploited and oppressed with the perspective of transforming the entire society by organizing against this capitalist system.