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Wave of strikes in the United States.

United States of America: more unions and more strikes

21 September, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

The trade union movement in the United States of America is experiencing a quantitative and qualitative growth unprecedented in recent decades.

Already in 2021, surveys were known that marked a high level of support for trade unions, comparable only with data from the mid-60s of the previous century. Moreover, among the most well-known institutions, trade unions were the only ones that increased confidence.

And this was beginning to happen despite the fierce resistance of the business sector that, in many ways, legal and illegal, was and is currently opposed to the formation of trade unions, collective bargaining and, of course, strikes.

It is especially important to note that the organizational attempts and more recently, negotiations and strikes, are taking place in emblematic sectors for the United States, in companies whose products are part of the social, economic, and cultural imaginary of the country.

On September 14, called by the International Union of United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), the strike began in the so-called “big three” of the American automobile industry: Ford, General Motor and Stellantis.

The UAW has more than 1 million active and retired members in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, as well as being affiliated with the AFL-CIO and the Canadian Labour Congress and IndustriALL Global Union, which represents more than 50 million energy, mining and manufacturing workers worldwide.

The companies took more than a month to respond to the UAW’s demands and failed to put on the table contract offers that even come close to meeting the union’s demands. That’s why, when the auto companies’ contracts expired on September 14, the UAW launched the strike and for the first time hit the “big three” at once.

The union demands several points, including an average salary increase of 40% since, they maintain, that was the increase received, in the last four years, by the company’s executives.

In addition, they explain that wages affect a very low percentage of the cost of business production, which is why companies that admit to having earned $21 billion in benefits in the first six months of this year 2023 alone should not have difficulties accessing union demands.

“Record profits mean record contracts,” said Shawn Fain, the union’s president.

The strike has just started and as Fain has recently stated “We have been available 24/7 to negotiate an agreement that recognizes the sacrifices and contributions of our members to these record profits”, but so far, they have not received responses.

The industrial action has the characteristic of being a Stand-Up Strike that is a new approach to strike, since, instead of attacking all the plants at once, select locals have been called to “stand-up” and go on strike. If the automakers fail to make progress in the negotiations and negotiate in good faith in the future, more workers will be called to join the strike.

Therefore, if there is no agreement in a few days, the strike may grow inside and outside the USA since also in Canada and Puerto Rico, the local unions are waiting for what may happen.

On the other hand, on July 14, 2023, the strike of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG–AFTRA), which represents more than 160,000 working people including actors, broadcasters, radio and television journalists, dancers, television presenters, recording artists, singers, stuntmen, voice actors and other media professionals, began. It is also affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the largest trade union federation in the USA.

The strike is in addition to the previously declared one of the Hollywood screenwriters, for which, it is the first time since the year 1960, that both sectors are on strike.

In this case, the counterpart is the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the main film studios in the country.

The negotiations were held for months but the progress was minimal, so the union decided to declare a strike.

The union leadership, chaired by the famous actress Fran Drescher, has expressed that “We need transformative contracts, but we remain very far apart on the most critical issues that affect the very survival of our profession. Specifically, we need fair compensation that considers inflation, income sharing in addition to waste, protection from artificial intelligence technology and updates to our pension and health contribution caps, which have not changed in decades.”

Both the UAW strike and the SAG-AFTRA strike are accompanied by multiple demonstrative actions of support and dissemination of the demands.

For example, on September 13, in front of the Paramount studios in Los Angeles, the SAG-AFTRA held a massive demonstration urging the business sector to respond to their demands and return to the negotiating table.

In both cases, the trade union actions have been widely disseminated and have provoked positions among the political system and in general of American society.

Clearly, the proximity of the electoral process is a backdrop to these actions and forces, in particular, the Democratic party (traditionally closer to the trade unions) to have an opinion and act so as not to be affected by the events.

However, there is no doubt that currently, the political and social weight of the unions in the USA is much greater than a few years ago, which is a highly relevant fact and should be considered to analyze the present and future of workers around the world.