Small but highly publicized strikes by Walmart retail and warehouse workers last fall set the labor movement abuzz and gained new respect for organizing methods once regarded skeptically. … [R]etail workers who staff the stores, warehouse workers who move Walmart’s goods, and even guest workers who peel crawfish for a supplier are ignoring the path laid out by U.S. labor law, in which workers sign a petition asking to vote on a union. Instead, they’re exercising their rights to redress grievances together, whether a majority can be rallied to support the effort or not. One-day strikes in dozens of stores last October and November protested illegal retaliation against those who had spoken up at their workplaces and joined the Organization United for Respect at Walmart. Several had been fired and many experienced threats and cuts in hours for their participation. “We have a way to respond to illegal actions,” Schlademan said: “the power of the strike.” …
…Backed against the wall in recent contract negotiations with the US Maritime Alliance (USMX), the ILA has threatened to strike. Picket lines could start popping up at ports from Maine to Texas on January 28. USMX has sought concessions from the union including reductions in hiring and healthcare payments, along with a slicing of the royalties workers receive on the cargo they handle. The strike threat comes as unions across the country are being urged to swallow concessions. Meanwhile, wages for both organized and non-organized labor have stagnated since Wall Street financiers crashed the economy in 2008, intensifying a four-decade earnings decline. The possible strike also arises at a moment of increased militancy among rank-and-file workers inspired by the Occupy movement, which shifted the national debate on to economic inequality. …
…With its emphasis on direct democracy, spontaneity and flexibility of tactics – and unbounded by union hierarchies or legal impediments such as the Taft-Hartley Act – Occupy has infused the labor movement with a fresh dose of radicalism…. Occupy has also leaned on labor at times. … But organized labor and Occupy haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. … In this sense, Muldoon said, Occupy wasn’t so much something new as it was a return to the basics. While expectations about the Occupy movement working successfully with organized labor may have been too high too early, OWS had a visible impact– and will continue to be a part of the fabric of the labor movement going forward, she said….
…Once a mainstay of the labor arsenal, strikes have largely fallen off since the early 1980s. So a recent spate of high-profile work stoppages, including by Chicago teachers, nonunionized Wal-Mart workers and New York City fast-food employees, has some experts wondering if we’re seeing a resurgence of the tactic.
Thomas Kochan, co-director of the Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thinks years of pent-up frustration over stagnant wages and diminishing benefits has finally hit the boiling point….
Positioning a walkout as an unfair labor practice strike is one of the key tasks for any union on the verge of a labor battle. Under the rules of the National Labor Relations Act, and the laws of many states that permit public employee strikes, ULP strikers cannot be permanently replaced.
When the employer hires replacements during a ULP strike, and the union later submits an unconditional offer to return, the employer must reinstate all strikers. The rule holds even if replacements must be dismissed.
Few regions have experienced a labor history as dramatic or as consequential as the Pacific Northwest. Unions and labor radicals have helped shape Washington, Oregon, and Idaho since the late 19th century.
This project assembles the most extensive online collection of materials about labor history for this, or any other, region. Here you will find detailed information and primary sources about key historical events, including the Seattle General Strike of 1919, the unemployed movements and labor crusades of the 1930s, farmworker campaigns from the 1930s to 1980s, timber worker unions, waterfront strikes, Filipino cannery worker unions, the Industrial Workers of the World, and the history-making WTO confrontation of 1999.
We have also compiled year-by-year chronicles of labor activism for certain decades. These Labor Yearbooks are a unique resource. In detail never before attempted we have sifted the key labor newspapers of Washington State creating a database of hundreds of strikes, boycotts, organizing campaigns, and other labor initiatives for each year. Digital copies of original news items are part of the Yearbook.
Labor journalism has always been an important subset of American media and one of the keys to effective organizing and labor’s political influence. Here are profiles of more than 50 union and radical newspapers that have published in the region since the 1890s.
Photos, Newsreels, Films
Here are hundreds of digitized historical photographs and several important films and newsreels.
On May Day, tens of thousands of Americans took to the streets. Invoking labor’s militant past, Occupiers in many cities called it a “general strike.” But few have asked why even the traditional strike has become almost an anachronism for America’s labor movement. In 1974, there were 424 major work stoppages, each involving at least 1,000 workers. By 2009, only five such stoppages occurred.
It’s easy to see this trend as damning evidence of labor’s irrelevance and the need to find a fresh wellspring of social and economic change. It’s even easier to place the blame squarely at the feet of conservative union leaders. Both these views lack nuance. Labor unions face a legal framework stacked against them. Laws can’t be casually broken: Unions have an important responsibility to their members and the financial assets they safeguard. Yet it’s worth remembering that past labor leaders believed in industrial action on a scale that would seem revolutionary even to radicals in the movement today. Figures like Samuel Gompers, Dave Beck, George Meany and Walter Reuther thought the strike was the most effective weapon of the working class. The decline of this venerable tactic has been devastating to our unions.
This May 1st Occupy actions planned on May Day are tied to the generations-long movement for the eight-hour day, to immigrant workers, to police brutality and repression of the labor movement.
Rosa Luxemburg, What Are the Origins of May Day? 1894
Rosa Luxemburg, The Idea of May Day on the March, 1913
Guido Baracchi, May Day, 1921
Nestor Makhno, The First of May: Symbol of a New Era, 1928
Alexander Trachtenberg, The History of May Day, 1932
Joseph North, May Day: Made in America, 1943
Mother Jones, from her Autobiography: The Haymarket Tragedy, 1925.
In 2011, there were 19 major strikes and lockouts involving 1,000 or more workers and lasting at least one shift, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The 19 major work stoppages in 2011 idled 113,000 workers for 1.02 million lost workdays, a large increase compared to 2010 with 11 major work stoppage idling 45,000 workers for 302,000 lost workdays. In 2009, there were record lows of 5 major work stoppages idling 13,000 workers for 124,000 lost workdays.
The longest work stoppage beginning in 2011 was between American Crystal Sugar Company and the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, Sugar Council. The ongoing work stoppage began in August and has lasted throughout the remainder of 2011 (105 workdays) with 1,300 workers accounting for 136,500 lost workdays. The largest work stoppage in 2011 in terms of number of workers and total workdays idle was between Verizon Communications and the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, with 45,000 workers accounting for 450,000 lost workdays.
This release includes information for the work stoppage between the National Football League (NFL) and the NFL Players Association. The work stoppage between the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the NBA Players Association involved fewer than 1,000 workers and is therefore not part of this data series.
Source: Jonathan Gruber and Samuel A. Kleiner, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, Vol. 4, No. 1, February 2012
From the abstract:
Hospitals now represent one of the largest union sectors of the US economy, and there is particular concern about the impact of strikes on patient welfare. We analyze the effects of nurses’ strikes in hospitals on patient outcomes in New York State. Controlling for hospital specific heterogeneity, the results show that nurses’ strikes increase in-hospital mortality by 18.3 percent and 30-day readmission by 5.7 percent for patients admitted during a strike, with little change in patient demographics, disease severity or treatment intensity. The results suggest that hospitals functioning during nurses’ strikes do so at a lower quality of patient care.
When leaders of the Occupy movement’s most reliable labor ally, the Longshore Union (ILWU), declared the union would not participate in Monday’s shutdown of West Coast ports, they illustrated a great weakness plaguing our unions.
Labor is confined by contract unionism, whose core is the no-strike clause.