Strikes Are on the Rise!

U.S. National Guard troops block off Beale Street as Civil Rights marchers wearing placards reading, “I AM A MAN” pass by on March 29, 1968. It was the third consecutive march held by the group in as many days. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had left town after the first march, would soon return and be assassinated.

By Alessandro Marroquin, age 11

In the last year there has been a surge in strikes across the world. According to a database run by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the United States saw 374 large-scale strikes occurring in 2022 alone, a 50% increase since 2021.

The onset of the 2020 pandemic created safety concerns for all types of workers, many of whom have been in unsafe working conditions. Many workers have also been suffering the consequences of inflation, with the prices of everyday products beginning to rise faster than wages. Workers want their employers to compensate them better and to create safer working environments.

But what exactly is a strike? Labor strikes can occur when a large group of workers feel that they are not being treated fairly. The workers come together and refuse to continue working. Often they will picket outside of their workplace and refuse to let anyone enter in order to protest for better benefits or pay from their employers. 

The first strike ever recorded took place in ancient Egypt in 1156 BC. Dissatisfied tomb builders working under Ramesses III were not getting paid on time. They stopped working and prevented people from entering the sacred place, Valley of the Kings. Faced with this, Ramesses III eventually decided to finally give the workers what they were owed. 

Unfortunately, according to a recent report by the Global Rights Index, the right to strike is increasingly criminalized, with strikes being restricted or banned entirely in 129 of the 148 countries the report covers. The number of countries violating a workers’ right to strike has grown from 63% in 2014 to 87% in 2022. If workers take part in an unprotected strike, they can legally be fired. However, if it is a protected strike, then it is illegal for the employees to be fired.

Over the years, strikes have ultimately achieved fairer wages and more worker protections and rights at work. In 1970, the Equal Pay Act was enacted in favor of women as a result of the 1968 Ford sewing machinist strikes. Even the eight-hour workday that we know today was the result of a series of strikes led by gas workers and dockers in the 1880s!

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