Jane Slaughter

In a Pandemic, Finding New and Old Ways To Fight New and Old Foes

Nurses in Michigan protesting lack of PPE and calling for the nationalization of the healthcare system

Workers this spring were forced to find new ways to assert their rights when faced with a deadly foe and employers indifferent to their lives.

Sometimes they resorted to the oldest trick in labor's book, the strike, especially wildcat strikes early on in the pandemic, and especially non-union workers. Sometimes they were forced to organize and protest virtually, making the most of social media. And the car caravan was reborn as an appropriately distanced tactic.

Strike First, Then Bargain

The Louvre's outside pyramid at sunset.

Direct action gets the goods. If your employer is still not acting like workers’ lives matter, take a page from union members who are putting muscle behind their bargaining—they're shutting the place down first.

Detroit bus drivers collectively declared Tuesday morning that they weren't going to work without safety precautions. At both the city's two big terminals, they talked among themselves, told management “no way—we need protection,” and called their union.

A worker cleaning a yellow pole with disinfectant on a NYC bus with another worker looking on. the workers are wearing orange safety vests, helmets, and transparent visors.

If there were ever a time to say, “I'll fight for someone I don't know,” this is it. If we ever meant it when we said “an injury to one is an injury to all,” now we're seeing why that's so.

The labor movement's cherished values of solidarity and siblinghood are our only chance if we don't want to see our elders die before their time.

GM workers on a picket line, one work offscreen with arm raised, another centered with sign with arm raised.

The Auto Workers' strike against General Motors came to a close this weekend after six weeks on the picket lines, with workers voting to ratify a contract that was clearly unloved but accepted with a yes vote of 57 percent.

UAW strikers picketing on a street corner.

“They always say it will take multiple agreements to reach equality—we can’t win it all in one go,” said Sean Crawford, a second-tier worker at Flint Truck Assembly in Michigan.

For Crawford, the GM strike, the longest at a Big 3 company in 50 years, was the best chance the union had to put an end to the many tiers that have fractured the workforce.

Voices from the GM Picket Lines

Workers on the GM picket lines with signs.

The GM strike jumped off suddenly September 16. At the start, it wasn't clear what the bargainers were going for—including to members themselves. Since then, judging by dozens of interviews on the picket lines, a remarkable consensus has developed among the Auto Workers rank and file: their top priority is wage equality, for second-tier workers and especially for the misnamed “temps.” Temps may work for years doing the same work as Tier 1 and Tier 2 workers, but with low pay and almost no rights.

GM strikers march with "UAW on strike" signs. Black and white women in foreground.

Forty-nine thousand auto workers are on strike at General Motors in the largest private sector strike since the last time union and company clashed, in 2007.

(Ready to lend a hand? Click here for a list of picket line locations.)

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