American Workers Finally Protesting En Masse

By Caitlin Kelly

For the first time since 2009, thousands of American workers are on strike or soon to be on strike — from 60,000 members of IATSE who work on TV shows and film to nurses in Massachusetts to the 10,000 John Deere workers in Illinois. Iowa and Kansas. Cereal makers are on strike.

We’re seeing history.

For decades, American workers — many doing dangerous, tedious jobs — have suffered stagnant wages, while their corporate masters earning record profits blew that money on stock buybacks and massive compensation, like 300 times that of their lowest-paid workers. The federal minimum wage is a pathetic $7.25, in a time of such inflation that Social Security just boosted its payments a record 9.5 percent.

Americans workers have, for a variety of reasons, felt — and been — powerless.

Now thousands are quitting, leaving retail, hospitality, medicine and even trucking scrambling to hire new staff.

The country has long had very low union membership, not even 15 percent.

This is a nation with no paid maternity leave, no mandated sick days or vacation days.

A nation of “at will”employment — an abomination that means any employer can fire you any time for NO reason.

Awesome!

I grew up in Canada and spent my 25th year on a journalism fellowship based in Paris, where every newspaper had an alphabet soup of unions to memorize. And French workers have never been shy about showing their force.

The immense power American employers hold over their staff has always shocked me deeply, and the cowed obedience they get in return.

But if your only access to affordable health insurance is by getting and keeping your job, even if you hate it, what choice do you have?

And COVID has now killed 700,000 Americans — a number too large to make sense of really.

So there are simply thousands of fewer workers; basic economics mean when there are fewer people ready to take your job offer, you may have to make it a lot more appealing than you used to.

I watch this powerful and inspiring movement from the sidelines of self-employment, where I and my husband have been for 15 and six years respectively.

There are many challenges to working freelance, from finding well-paying, reliable clients to getting paid quickly to managing our own taxes and costs of health insurance unsubsidized by an employer.

But it offers a very significant source of power, the one — belatedly and long overdue — now being wielded by so many fed-up, exhausted and pissed-off American workers.

We can, and do, withdraw our skilled labor from abusive, cheap clients.

We can, and do, set our own pay rates.

We can, and do, arrange our work schedule to best suit our needs.

We can, and do, take sick days and vacations.

Once you have discovered your own autonomy — not everyone wants to or can hustle this hard! — it’s difficult-to-impossible to imagine re-assuming the absurdities imposed by too many employers and public policy that routinely ignores what workers need and want.

Have you ever just quit a miserable job?

12 thoughts on “American Workers Finally Protesting En Masse

  1. I’m glad to have a good job, because expenses get more and more expensive every year. I’m also glad that there’s such a subtle movement of people fighting for better wages and working conditions. I hope it leads to some permanent changes.

      1. I’ll have to look that up. I remember that movement coming up in my anthropology class freshman year of college as being a huge, exciting thing with relevance go our lessons.
        Four years later, nobody talked about it.

  2. I’ve quit some and I’ve kept some too, because that was what it took to keep the ball rolling. I have never ever cut off my nose to spite my face and I have never stood up for myself with the expectation that anyone else would watch my back. Everybody has a price and, if it’s right, they’ll sell you out for it. So don’t get too hopped up on solidarity and brotherhood, we’re all still looking out for ourselves.
    And don’t forget the rising tide. All those rising wages are going to come with rising prices, so don’t look for that pay increase to make any kind of a major improvement in spending power. Tread lightly and seek reasonable, not punitive, solutions.

    1. Here’s the missing piece —- every time.

      The CEOs sucking up millions every year could also make a radical choice and take a 1% pay cut — which would boost wages and NOT pass this cost to buyers.

      It’s a fake and tedious bogeyman.

  3. So a CEO grosses a million dollars a year and takes 1% off (The gross) to pay his 1,000 employees higher wages. Small company, small salary. That’s $10,000 from the boss which adds up to ten bucks a year for the employees. That may well fly without a price increase, but it’s not even half a penny an hour in the average paycheck. Simple math, I know. More simple math: In order to provide the long-suffering members of the rank and file with a dollar an hour, Mr. Moneybags would not only have to work for free, but pay a million dollars more for the rare privilege of paying those who vilify him. Sounds fair to me.
    My wife’s a librarian. She has a college degree and far more patience with the public than I ever would. A quarter mile down the street there is a Bojangles’ chicken joint where the employees are paid four dollars more an hour than she is. A 1% tax increase, or better yet, a 1/10% property tax increase, $100 on a $100,000 property, much more than the median home value in that county, would enable the county government to pay more competitive wages. I’m sure the reason why this hasn’t happened is clear to you, but I’ll say it for the benefit of everyone else.
    Every single person on the board of commissioners would be thrown out on their ass for even making such a suggestion. The kind hearted generous people of Madison County will only allow those human qualities to go so far. When it comes to the money, all bets are off. Therefore it would seem that the people of this place and, I would presume, many other places are responsible for the financial hardships of workers in the public sector, including my wife.
    Here’s a fake, tedious bogeyman for you: The guy who only wants what he needs.

  4. David Holzman

    One of the big problems for American workers is mass immigration. In fact, mass immigration is a major cause of the disparity in wealth between African Americans and caucasian Americans over the last 200 years, as laid out in Roy Beck’s new book, Back of the Hiring Line: A 200-year history of immigration surges, employer bias, and depression of Black wealth.

    Here is my recommendation for the book on Amazon, where you can buy the book for $8.

    This book will probably do far more than any other book on immigration to convince doubters that mass immigration needs to end. It’s a brilliant, easily digestible presentation that gives a succinct overview within the intro and first chapter of how from the early 1800s to the present, time after time, mass immigration has resulted in African Americans seeing their wages reduced, and losing jobs to immigrants during periods of high immigration (relative to America’s population within each time period.

    Footnoted quotes from people ranging from Frederick Douglass to eminent economic historians:

    “Jeffrey Williamson and Peter Lindert’s macroeconomic history shows that between 1816 and 1856, the American Northeast was transformed from the “Jeffersonian ideal” to a society more typical of under-developed countries with marked income inequality and very low wags for laborers,” to the detriment of both free Blacks and immigrants, due to mass immigration.

    One of the beauties of the book is showing that this has happened repeatedly, making it much harder for proponents of mass immigration to argue that this is not what’s maintaining the income and wealth gap in wealth between African Americans and Whites (Blacks have 6%(!!!) the wealth of Whites currently).

    And author Roy Beck quotes Black leaders, from each of the multiple eras of mass immigration, starting with Frederick Douglass, on how mass immigration is resulting in Black wages dropping, and AFrican Americans losing jobs.

    Beck notes that currently, there is an ethical choice being made by many on the left that impoverished denizens of low income countries are more deserving than the descendants of American Black slaves. I would guess that most people making this choice are ignorant of how TOO MUCH immigration has pushed Blacks back down after they’d made progress during periods of low immigration, such as the post Civil War era and the post WWII era (and a handful of other such eras).

    That ethical choice may be helping the immigrants, but Beck points out that it is harming the countries they are leaving by enticing away those people who would be most likely to lead the changing of conditions in these home countries for the better.

    Beck also pointedly asserts that immigrants are absolutely not to blame for this–that the blame goes to American politicians.

    1. I would add one thing to this: My earliest immigrant ancestor came here from Germany in 1735. For the most part we have progressed, but we have never been wealthy, plenty of work to do to get by. As far as I know, we are historically a capitalist family. We don’t hold still for entitlement from anyone, including ourselves. Work is business and an employer is within his rights to hire or not based on the added value that comes from someone’s work. A person who immigrated LEGALLY gets the same chance as the locals, so if that Mexican crew working on the next house down the street is blowing the doors off the country boys at the one next to that, who deserves better compensation from the contractor?

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