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In These Times - October 14, 2021

Let me phrase that in a more positive way: The current wave of aggressive strike actions across the country is one of the most politically inspiring things that has happened in years.

Ten thousand John Deere workers went on strike today. Sixty thousand IATSE members may be on strike by Monday. They will join the thousands of nurses, miners, hospital workers, factory workers, and others already on strike across America. Here we are, in our long-awaited strike wave. What does this thrilling development tell the labor movement about what its future direction should be?

Nothing.

Let me phrase that in a more positive way: The current wave of aggressive strike actions across the country is one of the most politically inspiring things that has happened in years. But the fundamental thing that the labor movement needs to do remains exactly the same as it was last year, and the year before that: We need to organize many, many more workers into unions. A strike wave in a growing labor movement is the seed of something big for society as a whole; a strike wave inside a shrinking labor movement is, for all of its charms, a taunt to everyone on the outside looking in. In a society defined by inequality and elitism, unions are in danger of becoming just another benefit for the lucky few.

The promise and power of these strikes carry with them the imperative for unions to grow. As long as union density continues to decline, as it has since the middle of the 20th century, strikes will remain a tool inaccessible to the vast majority of working people in America. The strike wave will be a bomb whose blast radius is tightly contained. Its full potential will never be unleashed unless we make it possible for everyone to embrace its lessons. Inspiring millions of workers to fight for better lives is great — but when only 10 percent of them have the tool necessary to get it done, that inspiration can quickly curdle into cynicism and despair. ...
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