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What do Worker's Strikes Spell for the US?

by Taro Porschke

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher and National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, left, greet picketers at the Netflix picket line in Los Angeles, California on Friday, July 14, 2023. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Worker's strikes have been around for a while - to be exact, since c. 1150 B.C.E., under Pharaoh Ramses III in ancient Egypt. Strikes are actions of organized work stoppage, usually to get an employer to meet some sort of demand, whether it be a salary increase or better working conditions. So far, though, in 2023, we have seen 22 major work stoppages (strikes with at least 1,000 workers), 17 of which were in the private sector, the largest amount of strikes there since 2011. That's a lot, and they haven't been started by artisans of the Royal Necropolis - so what does that mean for the U.S. as a whole?

The unusual amount of strikes probably comes from a mixture of inequities only further facilitated and propagated by the pandemic, compiled with inflation and everything it entails. For a lot of unions, these are some of the first negotiations they are making since the advent of the pandemic. Negotiations seem to be working, though, as companies yield to unions. Now, the question is if these patterns will prove temporary or long-lasting.

The recently resolved UAW (United Auto Workers) automakers strike and the major Hollywood writers' strike that was resolved a few months ago are two prominent examples that map out what the future of strikes might look like. Both were highly organized, highly populated strikes that ended up with companies agreeing to almost every single term set up by the aforementioned movements.

The UAW strike resulted in a tentative deal with General Motors, with pay and cost-of-living raises of at least 30% by the expiration date of the contracts, April 2028, with an immediate 11% increase. Similarly, the WGA (Writers Guild of America) reached an "exceptional" deal with pay increases, protection against AI and better residual payments from streaming services.

It almost seems too good to be true, though - why are such large companies adhering to these incredible demands? We should be wary of other consequences, too - especially those negative. Although the UAW was able to garner better benefits for its members, what good are the benefits if they are out of a job in the first place? The auto strike came at a precarious time, risking forcing automakers to raise prices to be higher than nonunion rivals, a risky move, especially as companies are figuring out how to transition to EVs (electric vehicles). The strike itself cost GM 200 million dollars a week, a great motivator for reform, but not so much a great outlook for the future of the company.

As for the WGA, the benefits still do not guarantee an amazing future for writers - huge production companies still hold the power in the end, and profit will likely always take priority over artistic expression. There is no guarantee for an increase in quality, rather, seeing as how things are going, it seems inevitable for a continuity in quality decline.

Small wins are wins, yes, but it's still difficult to gauge the real, longer-term impacts such strikes will have.

For some more expert analysis, I talked to Columbus' A.P. Economics teacher, Mr. Ciocca, for his thoughts. He agrees - the cause for increased strike frequency is probably because of rising inflation and lack of salary increases to go alongside it. However, he says that it is difficult to ascertain if such trends will continue. In the Hollywood case, the causes of strikes were pretty unique - the whole industry is changing with the widespread use of streaming services and even AI. That same idea can be applied to the auto industry, with shifts towards EVs.

Hopefully, strikes mean a bright outlook for all workers, all across America, with better benefits and working conditions for all. But, for now, the most we can do is hope and speculate - it's difficult to measure and predict in the long term, especially for matters as sensitive as worker's rights and strikes.

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