Striketober: This Strike Wave Demands Policy Solutions in Addition to Individual Wins
November 4, 2021
By Anna N. Smith
Since October, strikes have taken place at more than 20 businesses in the US, including at Kellogg’s and John Deere. The current wave of labor uprisings has even made its mark internationally—with electricity and gas workers in France, General Motors in Brazil, and in South Korea, where 16,000 workers across the country staged a general strike. These strikes represent the collective demand for improved labor conditions and compensation at specific employers, while also affirming the need for political leaders to implement much-needed policy solutions.
Striketober—as the labor uprising has been dubbed—comes at a time when the unequal recovery from the COVID-19 recession has collided with decades of attacks on workers’ rights. Unchecked employer monopsony and restrictive labor laws have squeezed workers’ ability to demand fair wages. But the concessions recent strikes have won show that workers have found new power in the labor market. For example, Frito Lay workers in Kansas successfully ratified a contract guaranteeing them at least one day off a week and raised wages, and Nabisco workers in five states ratified a contract that increased hourly wages, expanded retirement contributions, and updated company overtime rules.
As we celebrate these hard-won victories, however, we should also see this strike wave as demanding more than concessions from individual employers. Policymakers should meet this uprising with new policies to protect and empower workers with and without unions. For one, the Senate should pass the Pro Act to ensure that workers can more easily organize in their workplaces. The Senate should also think bigger, by encouraging sectoral bargaining and by developing ways to include labor in the policymaking process. Moreover, the executive branch can take several actions to improve worker power, including committing to privileging unionized firms in the procurement process and incorporating unions into the policymaking process. At the state level, at-will employment—which is ubiquitous in the non-unionized private-sector—should be ended and a just cause standard should be adopted. Policy decisions like these, alongside the strength of labor unions, have the potential to reform the failures of the employer-powered economy.
Even in an economy that privileges and empowers the wealthy at the expense of the many, workers can join together to create power. Across the US and around the world, workers are calling for better pay, quality benefits, and improved working conditions. Workers may not win every battle against some of the world’s largest corporations, but this fall’s uprisings should push policymakers to create a more just playing field for workers.