One year ago, graduate student-workers at Johns Hopkins University overwhelmingly voted to unionize under the banner of Teachers and Researchers United (TRU-UE), which is affiliated with United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers. While workers had much to celebrate with their historic union election victory, bargaining a first contract with the university administration has been another story. On February 20, fed up with what workers say have been disrespectful and insufficient offers from the university administration, TRU-UE members held practice pickets on campus to show the administration what’s in store if more progress is not made at the bargaining table soon.
How transformative was the strike that the United Auto Workers concluded in November 2023, when it shut down factories at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, which now incorporates Chrysler? The UAW has been in existence for nearly 90 years, during which three contests with capital have defined the character of the union and–because of its vanguard role–the expectations and standards for millions of other workers. Should we add last Fall’s brilliantly led and highly successful “stand-up” strike to that list? The great sit-down strikes of 1937 founded the UAW and ensured that, for more than a decade, shop militancy and leftwing politics would define a union representing upwards of a million workers in America’s most important industry.
Bob Batz, Jr., thought it would end quickly. “It's kind of cute now, that we thought getting into last December  and January was a long time,” Batz said. “Little did we know. [We said] ‘Oh, it’s Christmas and we're still on strike. We can't believe it.’” Batz is one of 31 Newspaper Guild workers striking the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, owned by the family company Block Communications, Inc. Journalists at the Post-Gazette have been on strike since October 2022—making this strike the longest of the digital age—along with four other units: mailers, advertising workers, and Teamster truck drivers and pressmen.
Fans of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade may have noticed one glaring omission in its cast of charismatic balloons and floats: Scabby the Rat, who for some reason, has never been invited. But what employer wouldn’t want a reminder from Scabby—“an imposing 12-foot inflatable rat, replete with red eyes, fangs, and claws,” as the National Labor Relations Board puts it—to stay on its best behavior? Macy’s workers in northwest Washington rectified this last year by prominently featuring Scabby when they launched a strike and boycott campaign against the retailer over low wages and safety issues. Scabby was also the star of their own mock Thanksgiving Parade.
As faculty, staff, and graduate student workers at the City University of New York (CUNY) approach one year without a contract, a new strike campaign is forming, fueled by outrage over decades of underfunding, low wages compared to other New York City schools, and fresh cuts to the university’s 25 campuses. Just last month, dozens of faculty were laid off right before the start of the semester — with full or nearly full classes getting cut from the schedule, leaving students in disarray — after the university ordered enhanced cuts at nine CUNY schools. Furthermore, Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposed executive budget cuts CUNY funding by $528 million. Most of this decrease comes from the capital budget, which provides for building upkeep and other infrastructure costs, even though only eight percent of CUNY’s buildings are considered to be in a “state of good repair.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights stands in solidarity with the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and incarcerated people in Alabama who announced a mass prison strike today. We unequivocally support the organizers’ demands for legislative reforms—including repealing the Habitual Felony Offender Act, abolishing death by incarceration (also known as life without parole), and reversing the near complete abandonment of parole—and their call for an end to the torture and dehumanizing treatment exacted on incarcerated people by the State of Alabama. Our solidarity with Alabama prison organizers dates back to the 1970s with our support for the Atmore-Holman Brothers’ Defense Committee.
Fifteen hundred auto workers in Indianapolis made their New Year’s resolution public: unless Allison Transmission agreed to eliminate tiers in wages, benefits, shift premiums, and holidays, they would hit the bricks. “The fight plan throughout negotiations was ending tiers,” said Phil Shupe, a 10-year assembler on tier two and bargaining committee member. “We weren't going to accept anything from the company that had any more division. We stood firm that we all needed to be equal.” Workers at Allison make commercial heavy-duty automatic transmissions for fire trucks, school buses, and tanks, as well as hybrid propulsion systems.
Belvidere, Illinois — It’s been almost five months since JC Bengtson, an autoworker for 24 years, lost his job. “I miss working,” says the 55-year-old father of three daughters, all adults. “Right now I am unemployed and waiting to hear back.” We are sitting in the union hall of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 1268, in Belvidere, Ill., not far from the sprawling Belvidere Assembly Plant. Bengtson worked there for 10 years before he was officially laid off in September 2023, right before his union went on strike. The auto giant Stellantis announced in December 2022 that it would permanently idle the facility that assembled the widely popular Jeep Cherokee, and by February 2023, the majority of jobs at the plant had disappeared.
Los Angeles, CA - After a year in which both actors and writers hit the picket lines, another Hollywood strike may be on the horizon. The American Federation of Musicians (AFM), a union representing musicians across the entertainment industry, will begin negotiations Monday on a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The union said it is seeking a deal to better reflects the current state of streaming media. The AFM is also seeking AI protection, increased wages, health care improvements, improved working conditions and residual payments for streaming content.
The share of U.S. workers who belong to a union fell slightly to 10% in 2023, from 10.1% a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a scholar of organized labor, I’m not shocked by this slight decline, although if there was ever a year to expect the unionization rate to increase, it was 2023. Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation that unites 60 unions, has proclaimed 2023 “the year of labor.” She wasn’t exaggerating. Successful walkouts by Hollywood actors and screenwriters, autoworkers and health care professionals demonstrated how effective strikes can be in achieving union gains.
It wasn’t such a merry Christmas for grocery store management in central Minnesota. Five hundred grocery workers in the Brainerd Lakes area walked out on an unfair labor practice strike, deserting five stores between December 22 and 25. Management tried to keep the stores running, but workers said they turned into disaster zones. Why did two Cub Foods stores, two Super Ones, and a SuperValu find themselves on Santa’s naughty list last year? Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 663 charges management with interrogation, surveillance, intimidation, and bargaining in bad faith.
For over a decade, the administration at California State University (CSU) has been disinvesting in the United States’ largest public university system. The result has been the destruction of the institution’s academic integrity and the undermining of its basic goal: to serve the public good. Thankfully, a formidable opposition is growing among the faculty. This came to a head when, after a recent breakdown in negotiations with CSU management, the California Faculty Association (CFA) pledged to strike at all twenty-three campuses beginning this Monday, January 22. The twenty-nine thousand striking teachers are officially walking out over a bargaining impasse, but the conflict has roots far deeper than the recent breakdown in negotiations.
A wildly successful, illegal three-day strike by the Andover Education Association in November has reverberated statewide for educators in Massachusetts. The lowest-paid instructional assistants got a 60 percent wage jump immediately. Classroom aides on the higher end of the scale got a 37 percent increase. Members won paid family medical leave, an extra personal day, fewer staff meetings, and the extension of lunch and recess times for elementary students. Andover is 20 miles north of Boston, and the strike involved 10 schools. For 10 months and 27 bargaining sessions, the Andover School Committee had insisted that none of these demands was possible.
One of the largest strikes in North American history happened this winter and the struggle is ongoing. In Québec, 420,000 public sector workers in health care and education, united in a “Common Front” (Front Commun) of four major union federations, spent seven days on strike December 8-14. This followed half-day and three-day work stoppages in November. In addition to the Common Front, 66,500 workers in one of the teachers unions—la Féderation Autonome d’Enseignement (FAE)—were on strike for more than a month and more than 80,000 workers with a nurses union, la Fédération Interprofessionelle de la Santé du Québec (FIQ), struck December 11-14.
Strikes and threats of strikes extracted contracts ranging from good to excellent from employers across the country this year. Half a million U.S. workers walked out — machinists, teachers, baristas, nurses, hotel housekeepers and autoworkers — with much of the motion coming from unions led by reformers. The year started out with a squeaker of an election victory that turned out to be momentous. In late 2022, the Members United slate swept most top offices at the United Auto Workers (UAW) on a platform of “No Concessions, No Corruption, No Tiers.” March saw a presidential runoff pitting the old guard incumbent against an obscure Kokomo, Indiana, electrician and union rep named Shawn Fain.