This was called the "summer of strikes" or "hot strike summer" – only the movement continued into the fall and winter.
More than half a million workers staged nearly 400 strikes during the first 11 months of 2023, according to Cornell University's Labor Action Tracker.
"I think it's fair to say that, compared to the rest of the 21st century, this is quite a big jump," says Johnny Callas, the tracker's project director.
From auto workers to Hollywood actors and writers to airline pilots to UPS, a strike or the threat of a strike proved to be a powerful tool for workers in 2023. But why this year in particular?
Several union contracts last through 2023. But it was much more than that. Workers felt empowered by other highly visible and successful strikes (or strike threats) and a tight labor market, encouraging them to demand higher wages and other benefits as inflation took more money out of their pockets. Did.
“This is really the first contract that many unionized workers have been negotiating since the beginning of the pandemic, and I think a lot has changed since the beginning of the pandemic,” Callas says.
This is especially true for health care workers who were on the front lines of the pandemic and who were also struggling with feelings of burnout and looking for better working conditions. For example, Kaiser Permanente workers walked off the job in October The largest strike of health care workers in American history,
“Then you combine this with wage increases that certainly have not been anywhere near in line with inflation over the last few years, and you have a situation where workers are – in many ways, rightly so – very much in these current Are demanding contract negotiations, Callas says.
Certainly, the level of strike activity – while high relative to the 21st century – is significantly lower than in the past. In the 1970s, approximately 5,000 work stoppage incidents occurred each year involving an average of more than 2 million workers.
Now, Callas says, employers are "probably more resistant to both union organizing and strikes than they were in the mid-20th century."
and it shows. Union membership rates have declined from 20% in 1983 to 10% last year, According To the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, unions have the support of President Joe Biden and potentially much of the public.
According to Reuters/Ipsos vote Published in September, a majority of Americans regardless of party affiliation say labor unions have improved the quality of life for working Americans. He also expressed support for the United Auto Workers strike and the Writers Guild of America strike.
"I think the coalition of the public and the labor movement has the potential to impact these dynamics even more in 2024 than in 2023," says Sharon Block, a Harvard Law School professor and executive director of the Center for Labor and Justice. A fairer economy.
However, these steps come with risks. While the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 protects most workers' rights to strike for better working practices or pay, striking workers can potentially be permanently replaced at their workplace.
"It's never easy to strike, even now, when it seems like there are so many strikes happening and so much excitement about strikes," says Callas. "Employees do not want to be on strike."
There are more challenges to come in 2024. The tight labor markets that previously placed workers in a powerful position to bargain have begun to wane in some industries.
"We expect to see further softening of labor market trends going forward," says Lydia Boussor, senior economist at EY-Parthenon. "So there's going to be an environment where workers will be less confident."
Callas says America is at a critical moment for labor movements.
"We're really, in many ways, determining whether this moment for labor becomes truly sustainable with sustained benefits over time, or if it represents something more temporary," Callas says.