Today’s News & Commentary — November 28, 2019
Happy Thanksgiving! Here at OnLabor, we are thankful for the workers who grow our food, transport our loved ones, and do the innumerable other things that make our celebrations possible. We are also thankful for an increasingly robust national conversation about workers’ rights and collective power. Comprehensive labor platforms have become standard for Democratic presidential candidates. Public support for organized labor is on the rise, as is union membership among younger workers. Despite union membership falling to a record low in 2018 (the last year for which BLS data are available), work stoppages are at a thirty-year high. We look forward to furthering this national conversation over the coming months.
Sixteen catering workers were arrested while protesting outside of LAX airport on Tuesday. As Tabatha reported earlier this week, airline catering workers staged a coordinated strike across seventeen airports. The protest lasted just three hours, but was planned to disrupt rush hour on one of the busiest travel days of the year. The arrested workers were charged with participating in an unlawful assembly. A representative for the protesting workers said that their employer, LSG Sky Chefs pays many workers less than $12 per hour. The workers are seeking a $15 minimum wage.
In the UK, lecturers and academic support staff are striking to protest pay cuts. The national University and College Union, which represents more than 40,000 workers in the UK, set up pickets at more than sixty colleges and universities across the country. The strike is planned to last for eight days. International students say that the strike puts them in an uncomfortable position. Under current immigration policy, universities are required to report students who miss class to the immigration authorities. During the strike, this forces students to choose between crossing the picket line or potentially losing their right to remain in the country. Activists have asked universities to refuse to collect attendance data for the duration of the strike.
For The Nation, Chris Brooks expresses optimism that recent arrests and resignations in the UAW corruption scandal will allow the union to turn over a new leaf. It is clear that UAW leadership has abused workers’ trust and resources for years, but the recent GM strike shows that the workers have the militancy and organizing skill necessary to make real change—and it’s time to turn that energy on the union itself.
Finally, the New York Times profiles five members of the “modern Black Friday work force.” The profiled workers include a career luggage salesman who credits his financial stability to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a postal worker whose work has become dominated by online returns, a stockroom worker with an unpredictable schedule, and a saleswoman in a brick-and-mortar store whose job increasingly resembles e-commerce fulfillment. According to the Times, the profiled workers represent a cross-section of today’s retail workforce, which comprises “a variety of staff employees, gig workers and artificial intelligence,” reflecting the consumer demands of the 21st century.