More than 330K striking Americans help unions flex power

 Labor strikes have been on the rise in the United States, with over 330,000 workers participating in strikes since the beginning of September, according to Cornell University's labor tracker. This surge in strikes is significant as labor unions are currently enjoying high approval ratings and are employing aggressive strategies across various sectors of the economy.

One notable example is the United Auto Workers (UAW), which recently declared that it could expand its strike against Detroit's Big Three automakers at any time. This marks a change in approach for the union, which had previously been announcing new strike locations on Fridays. Currently, nearly 34,000 UAW members are participating in the strike, which initially began on September 15 with 13,000 workers.

In addition to the UAW strike, the actor's guild SAG-AFTRA has been on strike since July, representing 160,000 members in contract talks with major studios. Two other significant strikes, one involving screenwriters and the other healthcare workers, have recently concluded. The Writers Guild of America's strike, which involved over 11,500 TV and film writers, came to an end after 148 days. Similarly, the strike by about 75,000 employees of Kaiser Permanente, the largest nonprofit health system in the country, concluded after a three-day protest.

The number of workers participating in strikes has increased significantly compared to previous years. According to Cornell University's data, the number of strikes has jumped almost tenfold since 2021. As of October 11, 2023, there have been 318 strikes involving approximately 468,200 workers, compared to 188 strikes involving about 47,800 workers during the same period in 2021, and 345 strikes involving approximately 126,800 workers in 2022.  

Prior to the 1980s, the number of workers participating in strikes in the United States was quite high, with over a million workers going on strike each year, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, a significant turning point came in 1981 when former President Reagan took a firm stand against striking air traffic controllers. He fired approximately 11,300 controllers after ordering 13,000 of them to return to work. This event had a profound impact on the tone and dynamics of labor movements in the country.

Following Reagan's actions, there was a notable decline in the number of workers going on strike. Between 2000 and 2017, the average annual number of workers participating in strikes decreased to around 100,000. This shift in the labor landscape indicated a significant decrease compared to the levels observed prior to the 1980s.  

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