‘Striketober’ may be a turning point for the US Labor movement.

The US is not generally considered a hotbed of labor unrest. However, this is precisely what we are seeing as, during the month of October, more than 100,000 workers have threatened to strike or have left work to demand wage increases, improvements in their working conditions and basic human dignity.

Nicknamed a “striketober” by activists and experts alike, this wave of strikes is taking place across the country, in various industries. From workers at a John Deere factory in Iowa that produces farm equipment to Kaiser Permanente nurses in California and Oregon, people from various walks of life are taking matters into their own hands and demanding changes to improve their lives. .

These workers are doing something else as well, namely displaying a certain strategic brilliance by choosing now as the time to leave work.

There is a chronic labor shortage in the US, and thus these striking workers are taking an already bad situation for employers and making it worse.

The causes of this shortage are many.

Some claim that, with the Biden administration distributing payments as part of the COVID-19 stimulus, workers are choosing to stay home rather than rejoin the workforce. Assigning the blame to the government in this way overlooks other more likely explanations, not to mention the fact that this kind of claim is a red herring for so-called anti-government conservatives to cut public policy across the board. There is also the reality that government payments have equaled average pre-pandemic wages in just three states.

The best explanations include how the pandemic caused a significant change in labor relations, as workers changed jobs, as many have decided to take jobs online, while others have opened small businesses. Retired workers, some for fear of contracting COVID-19, as well as strict immigration requirements, have been seen as contributing factors that have created job openings in the American workplace.

The strikers also have some legitimacy created by the COVID-19 pandemic, as these workers have kept the country going while millions take refuge in their place. Some of the nurses who went on strike have worked in intensive care units during the worst days of the pandemic. Who can honestly find fault with these caregivers who have grappled with the occasion day after day for the last year and a half?

The same can also be said of any of the other workers who were deemed “essential” by government authorities. From farm workers to grocery store employees, millions in the US have had to work because COVID-19 created undue stress in their workplace.

It is important to note that the “striketober” is different from the massive actions that had previously been seen in the country in another critical way.

Consider the many protests that took place when Donald Trump was president. Immediately after the former president’s inauguration in 2017, the Women’s March took place, which saw thousands of people take to the streets to denounce Trump and his incoming administration. Like the strikes that are taking place now, these took place in cities across the country. But there is a key difference. Despite all the disgust and anger that they mobilized, the Women’s Marches were only held for one day.

Similar actions in the past, such as “A Day Without Immigrants”, which called for reforms to the immigration laws of the United States, have also been called for a single day.

Holding one-day protests can briefly draw attention to a cause, but are too easily ignored by authorities. Sure, dramatic footage of the massive stocks will air in the 24-hour news cycle, but as soon as the public’s attention is caught by other headlines, interest will shift to the next shocking thing in the news.

Meanwhile, the authorities can turn around and ignore protests with ease, no matter the size or fairness of their cause, because no real pressure has been exerted.

But the workers who go on strike now will not do so for a single day. The strike will end when the negotiations are over. Maybe that point will be reached in a week, a month, or a year. And this is central to the strategic lesson: no deadline has been announced in advance.

For the first time in decades, American workers have influence. The question now is whether workers in other industries will join the strike. With supply chain disruptions still a problem across the country, will additional organized and unorganized workers also seize this moment and use their influence to make their voices heard?

The truth in the United States is that the stalemates in debates about the need to improve the country’s healthcare system, reform its immigration policy, and raise the minimum wage have raged for far too long. Perhaps the “striketober” efforts themselves, as well as other moves that may draw on strikers for future action, will pressure the authorities for real change.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.


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