A Banner Year For Strikes

Workers are finding a fresh enthusiasm for organizing.

I once decided to go on strike from my weekly chores. My father responded by saying he respected labor movements and their right to advocate for better working conditions. He added, however, that my allowance would not be paid until and unless normal service was restored. Immediately thereafter, I set a new world record for peeling potatoes.

My action was inspired by what was going on in the world at large. I grew up in an era of strikes: back then, unionized sectors were threatened by global sourcing and concerned about wages that struggled to keep up with the costs of living. Walkouts involving scores of workers, often lasting for many weeks, were frequent.

We don’t see episodes like that much anymore. Organized labor is a shadow of its former self; union membership has fallen to just over 10% in the U.S., from nearly a third in 1960. About one-quarter of British workers are unionized, as opposed to 40% sixty years ago. The shift from heavy industry to services and the expansion of global trade have limited labor’s leverage for decades.

But 2023 is shaping up to be a big year for labor actions. There have already been several prominent strikes in developed countries: transit and health workers in the U.K., writers, actors and (potentially) automakers in the United States. Tight job markets have emboldened workers and provided companies with limited options for replacing picketers.

Number of Workers on Strike Could Eclipse Recent Years