Though working people have faced innumerable challenges in 2021, there’s a silver lining. Like never before, workers are organizing to fight back against corporate control of our economy. Collective action has led to a series of strikes and near strikes that put the wealthy and powerful on their heels and led to groundbreaking gains on wages, benefits and health and safety, to name a few.
And as a result of unions pushing for stronger worker protections, public sentiment is squarely behind workers fighting for a better deal on the job, as SEIU-USWW leader David Huerta details in CalMatters:
While there is not a lot of hope among many, there is this: 78% believe it is important for workers to organize so that their employers don’t take advantage of them.
We are seeing that on an ad hoc basis in a phenomenon some are calling the “great resignation.” A record number of workers quit their jobs in 2021, spawning a worker-driven labor shortage.
Job levels have not returned to pre-pandemic levels not because there is a shortage of low-wage jobs, but because of widespread dissatisfaction with the conditions that come with those jobs. Workers are fed up and feeling empowered.
The empowerment workers are feeling amounts to more than just a “moment” for labor. It’s an evolving movement led by those who have suffered the most under corporate rule: young people and people of color. Recent surveys have shown record support for unions and collective action by Gen Z, for example. That bodes well for the future of not just unions, but our economy. But, as more worker victories threaten the vice-like grip the wealthy and powerful hold over this country, we know they’re going to use their influence to try to quell the resistance we’re seeing now. We must steel ourselves for the fight ahead.
There have been periods in our history when dissatisfied workers have successfully pushed for change. There were periods, such as after the World Wars or coming out of the Great Depression, when working people made great contributions to society and then insisted that they be rewarded.
For the essential workers – Black, Latinx, Asian, white – whose sacrifices made it possible for us to get through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is another such time.
To move our economy forward so that it works for all of us, workers need a stronger voice, not a muffled voice.
It will take collective resolve to bend the arc of inequality, to close the gap between rich and poor, to re-create a thriving, racially inclusive middle class that can again have faith that children will fare better than their parents.
That’s the union agenda. Californians are on board.
The lesson is simple: When workers stand together in unions, anything is possible. Just ask workers at Starbucks, Amazon, Kaiser and other mighty corporations, who’ve recently made major gains despite corporate opposition.