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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The summer of the strike isn’t over

2023 has been a year filled with powerful demonstrations of worker solidarity. At the forefront of the discussion was the Writer’s Guild of America strike, which resolved recently after nearly five months, according to the Chicago Tribune. [1] The Screen Actors Guild announced their strike soon after, and all around the country, dozens of industries are now following suit. According to Fortune Magazine, 323,000 workers, from nurses to hotel janitors, have gone on strike so far this year. [2] 

Other industries are either unionizing or rapidly gearing up to strike. For example, The Chicago Tribune reports that Marvel VFX workers, who have been infamously subjected to 100-hour work weeks, shifting deadlines and unsympathetic producers, have finally joined the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. [3] Just recently, 340,000 UPS workers threatened to strike before reaching a last-minute agreement with the company, according to NPR. [4] With the new agreement, UPS workers will now receive, on average, $170,000 a year, $7.50 an hour more in total. 

This past summer has been reminiscent of Spring 2022, when workers at a New York warehouse forced Amazon to recognize their trade union for the first time, as reported by the BBC. [5] That effort came as part of a larger push to secure safe and sanitary working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for “essential” yet under-privileged workers like food service employees, janitors and nurses. In fact, this year’s strikes are happening for a remarkably similar reason—every change made during the pandemic has been rolled back in the name of returning to “normalcy.” Corporations continue to make record profits for shareholders; meanwhile, the federal minimum wage has stagnated at $7.25.  

Despite the protests, the fight for unionization is far from over. Barely 10 percent of workers in the United States are in a union. By contrast, after World War II, over four million workers went on strike, peaking during the Civil Rights movement. Thanks to decades of federal conservative leadership since then, especially the Reagan administration, union membership has been on the decline since the 1970s, with only brief spikes during times of economic hardship. [2] Workers today seem dismissive of unions, and while many union leaders do represent an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, the bargaining power they provide is critical—as demonstrated by the past eight months of action.  

Broad unionization trends tie into battles over the minimum wage, working conditions in tech industries, child labor laws, and even other social justice issues like the education system, free lunch programs, homelessness—the list goes on. Better benefits for any industry mean better benefits for all; not only does it trickle down into the economy, but it also provides workers with bargaining chips they might not have otherwise had.  

Support from government officials varies. President Joseph Biden has repeatedly endorsed trade unions, according to the New York Times, despite many members of construction, fire and police unions voting consistently Republican; just this Tuesday, Sept. 26, President Biden joined striking General Motors workers on the picket line, according to the Associated Press. [6] Former President Donald Trump has campaigned similarly in Michigan, a known “battleground” state, although his platform has not historically benefited unions. [7]  

Ultimately, this is political posturing from both sides of the aisle. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have passed any significant legislation that would protect workers, especially not during the Trump administration. In fact, in December 2022, President Biden himself signed a bill blocking a railroad strike, citing an impending “economic catastrophe” the strike would cause, according to Reuters. [8] This is always the pattern with hot-button social issues. Even after June 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement and all the protests that it spawned, police agencies have only received more funding from Biden’s congress. Climate change, student debt and dozens of other issues have been left unresolved in favor of centrism and party infighting.  

This summer has made it abundantly clear that this coming election season, candidates are going to be pushing harder than ever to appeal to strikers and workers, regardless of whether they plan on truly advocating for workers while in office. Amidst this, it’s important to remember that the strikes are still ongoing, and there’s plenty of work to be done. Thankfully, it seems like the WGA will reach a favorable agreement with media corporations, and hopefully the same can be said about the SAG-AFTRA and UAW strikes. Progress isn’t happening as fast as it was in the 1950s or even the 1970s, but progress is still progress. 

 

[1] https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/other/nina-metz-the-hollywood-writers-strike-is-likely-over-what-happens-now/ar-AA1hlo9f 

[2] https://fortune.com/2023/08/26/how-big-summer-of-strikes-labor-movement-union-membership-history/ 

[3] https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/what-to-watch/ct-ent-vfx-artists-marvel-labor-exploitation-20220721-bns4dm4ftjesvk2lqchhiyk36e-story.html 

[4] https://www.npr.org/2023/08/23/1195383661/ups-workers-approve-5-year-contract-capping-contentious-negotiations 

[5] https://www.bbc.com/news/business-60944677 

[6] https://apnews.com/article/president-joe-biden-strike-united-auto-workers-8ecc84eeca15c99673f31bdac6921f7b 

[7] https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/trump-heads-michigan-compete-biden-union-votes-gop-103517474 

[8] https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-signs-bill-block-us-railroad-strike-2022-12-02/ 

About the Contributor
Elijah Horwath, Managing Editor