Union Fever Sweeps the U.S.

By Dan Sidorick

As PTLs, it’s important for us to learn about everything our Rutgers Adjunct Union is doing, but it’s also inspiring to realize that we’re part of a much bigger movement. We read every day about new union organizing campaigns and workers recognizing the power of their labor by striking or threatening to go on strike in all kinds of industries. From coal miners to home care workers, media employees, factory workers, and academic workers, like the contingent lecturers’ union at the University of California who just won a tremendous contract battle, working people are fighting back (and see this great conversation about the wins from that campaign).

In the past, such actions were common, with literally millions striking in 1919, 1937, and 1946 (4.6 million in 1946). Even in years other than these, through the 1970s, hundreds of thousands of workers withheld their labor each year and often won substantial gains. Starting in that decade, however, with the attacks on labor that escalated in the Reagan years and since, the number of workers’ actions declined dramatically to only a handful each year. But starting with the wildcat (unauthorized) strike of the West Virginia teachers in 2018, we have been witnessing a resurgence of strikes, and many more threatened strikes, often settled at the last minute, that resulted in strong advances for workers. In addition, organizing drives and union representation elections are spreading across a wide range of industries.

Why is there so much labor activity now? Years of pent-up grievances and stagnating pay, along with impacts from COVID, set the stage. But workers are also realizing that they have great potential power since nothing gets made or done without us. By withholding—or threatening to withhold—our labor, we can fight for a better world for all of us. Check out this mind-boggling weekly newsletter documenting all the strike actions and organizing drives happening now, see Labor Notes for more background stories, and get inspired to join your union in winning equity, dignity, and justice for PTLs and everyone in the Rutgers community!

(Image caption & credit: University of California workers won a groundbreaking adjunct contract, AFT)