2018 was the year of the strike. In fact, 2018 saw the largest increase in strikes in the last three decades. Workers across sectors went on strike in various sectors went on strike all across the country. For example, in the education sector teachers agitated for more funding and better pay while health care workers demanded job protection and fair wages. This large uptake in the strike is reflective of an important idea. The strike is not dead. In fact, I argue that the strike is very much alive and in this globalized world, has the potential to affect large scale change in industry and in public policy. In order to do this, I believe that modern-day labor organizers must continue and increase efforts to uplift the voices of people of color and marginalized communities work when striking.
During the second new deal, labor gained a vast array of new protections that gave union power a boost. This boost translated to strikes reflective of union power. For example, in 1937 there were 4,370 strikes with almost 80% of them being settled in favor of the union's demand. This is to say that unions were striking more and winning more than they ever did. Strikes were powerful and effective organizing tools.
Today, many argue that workers and labor organizers do not recognize the collective power they have. Many unions lack the numbers of the early 1900s and thus, lack the bargaining power that makes strikes effective. This view is false. Strikes still have the power to effect major change because they can ripple through the company or organization. For example, in 2018 7,000 workers at various Marriott hotels across the nation (Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland, Detroit and Hawaii to be precise) went on strike and were able to bargain for new contracts that included panic buttons for housekeepers to alert security if they feel unsafe with a guest and banned guests with a history of sexually harassing workers (Vox). In some cities, workers also saw raises. This strike shows that the strike is not dead - but it is an effort that is easier to resist. The Marriott strike lasted for two months, included workers from 23 different workers and most notably, had a strong presence from people of color. In fact, one reason the Marriott workers went on strike was because of “fluctuating hours and unpredictable paychecks for the company’s predominantly black and Latino employees” (The Nation).
I point to the case study of the Marriott hotel strike because it shows that even modern strikes, the workers often hit the hardest are people of color and often, are the people least supported by the company and most affect by inadequacies in the workplaces. This is a trend present throughout the history of labor and one that is clearly still manifest today. And thus, for labor strikes to be effective, black and brown peoples must continually be involved and apart of laying out the demands for strikes. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The two most dynamic and cohesive liberal forces in the country are the labor movement and the Negro freedom movement. Together we can be architects of democracy.” When strikes acknowledge, include and mobilize people of color they win - as is demonstrated by the Marriott strike. Thus, for strikes to continue to “live” and to be an effective tool for labor organizers, people of color must be included in all aspects of strikes.