We are in the middle of a strike wave in the U.S. The momentum of this movement of organized labor grew out of the teachers’ strikes across many states in the past several years. Off the heels of this was the week-long Stop & Shop strike. Thousands of workers in other industries — notably UPS workers and NYC nurses — nearly went on strike recently. More locally, hotel workers in Stamford and Hartford have been receiving international attention for their militancy.
Beginning in mid-September, workers from General Motors (unionized within United Auto Workers) went on strike. Workers are rising up against stagnating wages, the proliferation of low-wage temporary work, increased privatization and widespread cuts to benefits across many different industries. Consider the context of this struggle: Workers were forced to make sacrifices during the recession of 2008 while the Obama administration was bailing out the bosses. Now, a face of American industry is fighting back.
It must also be considered that as economic opportunity in this country wanes, young people are increasingly growing towards left-wing ideas that see the ruling class’s grip on the freedom of workers as a fundamental part of that class’s functioning under capitalism. Many youth and students are concluding that the boss’s control of economic power is destroying the planet. These students must be ready to show solidarity with workers and actively help build up a fighting labor movement. Last semester, UConn Youth for Socialist Action (YSA) mobilized students to show solidarity to striking Stop & Shop Workers in Willimantic. Over a year ago, YSA was involved in the fight for a Graduate Employees Union and participated in sit-ins at Gulley Hall for the worker’s will to be recognized by the University.
The club has continued its commitment to student-labor solidarity by giving support to the workers of Battery-Wharf Hotel in Boston. This hotel, owned by two highly exploitative firms, is attempting to make cuts to the workers’ benefits, hours and wages. Hospitality workers’ union UNITE-HERE Local 26 organized the strike to demand that Battery-Wharf workers get at least the same benefits and treatment as every hotel worker in the city of Boston.
Earlier in September, members of UConn Youth for Socialist Action drove to Boston to join the workers’ picket. The workers told UConn students about low wages, racism from management towards darker-skinned workers, lack of benefits and cutting of hours. As one worker Mohammed, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, said, “The bosses are getting the money, but we are making the money for them.” Chanting slogans like “One job should be enough” and “Don’t stay here; we’re on strike,” workers and students marched around the hotel making sure that everyone in the rooms above could hear and feel the energy of the workers determination for better treatment and a good contract.
However, if we are going to be effective in struggles, we need much more of this — and on a larger scale. Even though the bosses control the decisions over how and what gets produced, the workers are what make production and services run in this world. Thus, workers are at the helm of many (and arguably all) important social struggles. Take climate change. The ongoing destruction and threats of the current environmental crisis point to the need for a radical change to our economy away from fossil fuels and military production, and towards 100% renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure and goods. It is workers that can strike to halt our current economy of war and pollution. It is workers who will be the ones launching the immense effort towards a new economy.
A large part of this is that workers struggles need to do a better job of incorporating broader issues of our world. We have seen some of this recently. Some American workers were involved in the climate strike including Amazon employees that held a walkout at the company’s Seattle headquarters. GEU at UConn very often participates in protests on campus (including recent rallies against gender-based violence and the far-right). Some unions are doing more to actively fight for the rights of immigrants. In August of last year, YSA members attended a massive demonstration of a handful of labor unions in Philadelphia in protest against U.S. immigration policy and the detention of massive numbers of immigrants.
But this also means that student struggles need to include the power of organized labor. Weeks ago, students achieved a milestone in recent campus activism in the Climate Strike (Sept. 20). However, workers were conspicuously absent. This is a criticism but not a condemnation. We are currently working to get GEU involved in further climate actions and it is only forward from here! The success of a fight for economic, climate and social justice relies on the organization of labor. But this has to be fought for — the bosses don’t want it.
Ruwan Munasinghe is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. HE can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.