Striketober holds potential for working class power
No war but class war
A multitude of strikes have surged across the world as the pandemic continues to disrupt lives and livelihoods. Throughout the last 19 months, many workers have been deemed essential by large corporations. But with low wages, more hours, and no benefits, workers are struggling to survive while corporations are thriving, seeing profits far higher than before the pandemic. Officially dubbed “Striketober,” workers across the U.S. in particular are walking out on big name corporations like Kellogg’s, John Deere, and McDonald’s, joining picket lines against corporation executives.
All of these issues existed before the pandemic, but have only intensified throughout the last 19 months. While companies are boasting about the best profits they have had in years, workers are left behind. According to Forbes, U.S billionaires’ wealth increased by $1.8 trillion due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, 86 million Americans lost their jobs. As determined on August 17, U.S billionaires’ net worth is currently at $4.7 trillion dollars. Meanwhile, in the U.S. alone, thousands of workers have sickened or died after contracting COVID in their workplaces, and thousands more have lost their homes.
While the ruling class has cast the current challenges with hiring as a “labour shortage,” these strikes tell a different story: there are plenty of workers, but they’re no longer willing to work for meagre pay in horrific conditions. Accompanying these strikes is what has been called “the Great Resignation”, which saw 4.2 million workers leaving their jobs in early August – 100,000 have followed in early October. The lack of a compliant labour pool caused companies to panic, but without willingness on their part to increase wages, provide PPE, or improve working conditions, even greater numbers of workers have continued to walk off the job.
Labour Action Tracking project has recorded 178 strikes since the start of 2021. Students and faculty of the School of Industrial Labour Relations at Cornell University are recording when and where the strikes are occurring, and what demands are coming from the strike. The app was created because the U.S government only records strikes that exceed 1000 workers. The project is meant to encourage other strikers to join into collectives against larger corporations.
The demands of workers show they’re resisting jobs that have minimal to no benefits, poor wages and long hours, and that are often in unsafe conditions. Workers from Kellogg’s organized strikes after a contract to improve benefits was denied. The more you work for a specific company, the more your wage will increase, and more benefits will apply. A basic concept within unionism is equal work for equal pay. The two-tier wage and benefit system are not working. While some get the benefits of the system, others are left out of the process leaving them with the same work, while a co-worker gets more benefits and an increase in pay. Kellogg’s is trying to cut any benefits for future workers, and as senior employees age out and retire the benefit system will be finished. The two-tier system is stripping future employees of benefits which is a direct result of money sucking executives.
Small successes have already arisen from strikes, but not without heartache. The Hollywood Film industry narrowly averted its own strikes by readjusting its contracts with operation crews. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees came to a three-year agreement to include rest periods, meal times, and heightened wages. This deal affects 60,000 workers in the film industry. Camera crews have been working double-time hours to make up for time wasted during the pandemic, and some shoots have lasted more than 18 hours. Unsafe working conditions and safety precautions have been put into question on set of the film Rust after Alec Baldwin mistakenly discharged a prop gun, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza. It is reported that Rust camera crew walked off set earlier in the day because two misfires had occurred prior. In a comment from Mother Jones, an unnamed source who works as a part of the camera crew for Rust said that the crew was treated “like absolute dog shit.”
Regarding labour power, Marx said that wages should directly correlate to the labour power of the worker. This questions capitalist society and how it determines the value of labour. We are beyond Marx’s teachings and need to be thinking of equity and how it translates to a greater equal society.
Because there is a greater labour deficit, larger corporations are now starting to listen to their employee’s because they want them to return to keep generating revenue. After a year and a half of being praised as heroes for working through the pandemic, there are no bonuses or higher wages – just more hours for the same compensation. Companies are applauding workers for making it through such tough times as they sit on top of their piles of money. It is no wonder, with such harsh conditions and so many money sucking executives, that employees are picketing in front of factories.