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The Return of the Strike

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This year, thousands of teachers, hotel workers, Google employees, and others walked off the job and won major gains. Which raises two questions: Why now? And will this continue?

Steven Greenhouse, the American Prospect / Portside

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January6,2019 | For years, many labor experts seemed ready to write the obituary of strikes in America. In 2017, the number of major strikes—those involving more than 1,000 workers—dwindled to just seven in the private sector. Indeed, over the past decade, there were just 13 major strikes a year on average. That’s less than one-sixth the average annual number in the 1980s (83), and less than one-twentieth the yearly average in the 1970s (288).In 1971 alone, 2.5 million private-sector workers went on strike, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—that’s 100 times the number, 25,000, who went on strike in 2017.



Some labor experts say the recent surge of strikes could portend a new wave of labor activism, as more and more workers see that collective action can pay off.



But then came 2018 and a startling surge of strikes in both the private and public sectors. More than 20,000 teachers and other school employees walked out in West Virginia in February, followed by at least 20,000 more in Oklahoma. Probably the biggest educators’ strike came in Arizona, where more than 40,000 walked out. There were smaller, but still large, teacher walkouts in Colorado, Kentucky, and North Carolina.

Steven Greenhouse <> was a reporter at the New York Times for 31 years and was its labor and workplace reporter from 1995 to 2014. He is the author of The Big Squeeze: Tough Time for the American Worker, and his new book, Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor, will be published next year. 

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