By GRAHAM TRAINOR, Oregon AFL-CIO president
Hot labor summer. Solidarity summer. Strike ready summer. These taglines are reverberating through our news feeds during one of the most consequential summers of labor action in recent memory. At this very moment, hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers are either currently or recently on strike or gearing up for one: writers, actors, hotel workers, UPS workers, autoworkers, Starbucks workers, journalists, healthcare workers, education workers, and so many more. In fact, over half a million workers could be on strike at the exact same time this summer depending on several negotiations in the coming months.
If the reasons for this historic summer aren’t yet clear, let’s break it down: Workers are angry. They’re angry about how they were treated during the pandemic by their employers. They’re angry about employers making record profits while they showed up to work at great personal risk through the darkest period in our lifetime.
With a tight labor market and relatively strong economy, workers have the flexibility to find better jobs if our employers aren’t treating us with the respect we deserve.
And workers are inspired and enthusiastic about the labor movement, with the highest approval ratings in half a century. Workers are out to get their fair share of pay, retirement and healthcare security, a say in how new technologies will impact their work, and a voice in their working conditions.
Coming out of the pandemic, the number of workers who went on strike increased by nearly 50% in 2022, compared to 2021, and we’re already seeing a nearly twofold increase just halfway through this year.
There is a singular ingredient that gives any one of these disparate groups of workers a shot at success: solidarity. Without solidarity across unions, communities, and allies, none of these individual struggles could be successful. When workers are divided, the bosses win. And we see that play out every single time.
The billionaires and CEOs fear nothing more than a united working class. And just as workers are doubling down, so are the union-busting forces in our economy. As if workers needed more to be enraged by, let’s look at some examples of corporate greed on full display.
In 2021, eight major Hollywood CEOs made over $773 million while many of the workers who wrote their shows can’t afford rent.
In 2022, UPS spent $45.8 million on executive pay and made over $100 billion in total revenue while many part-time UPS workers live in poverty.
And over the last 10 years, the Big Three automakers made a quarter trillion dollars in profit while workers did everything asked of them to keep the American automobile industry alive and remain competitive.
To put a finer point on corporate greed and the cruelty and the ruthlessness of those who seek to weaken our collective strength, here’s a recent quote from a Hollywood studio executive on their goal against workers:
“The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.” Another corporate insider called this strategy “a cruel but necessary evil.”
What we know in the labor movement is that if the working class doesn’t fight back, doesn’t stand up to bully bosses, doesn’t put it all on the line when we’re pushed too far, and doesn’t stand up to corporate greed, no one else will.
As this hot labor summer continues to heat up, let’s never forget what makes us unstoppable, what Corporate America fears most, and what truly is our lifeblood: Solidarity forever. See you on the picket line!