United States: strike action on the rise – Marxists join the picket lines

Working-class militancy is on the rise across the US. Workers are engaged in organising battles at Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, and beyond. A wave of academic workers’ strikes is sweeping the country, with 48,000 teaching staff in the University of California (UC) system walking off the job, while on the other side of the country, part-time faculty shut down classes at The New School in New York City.

Socialist Revolution stands in full solidarity with the workers who are fighting for higher wages to combat inflation, better working conditions, and the right to unionise. Our comrades mobilised in cities around the country to stand side by side with our class brothers and sisters, bringing a program of class independence and militant class struggle to the picket lines.

Class struggle at UC Irvine

The Los Angeles branch has been preparing for the ongoing teacher assistants’ strike for quite a while now. The Socialist Revolution club at UC Irvine has been in contact with leading rank-and-file activists in UAW Local 2865, in the lead-up to the 98% strike authorisation vote across the UC’s graduate student unions.

To help spread the word about the workers’ struggle and provide a Marxist perspective, our comrades invited a rank-and-file worker and a member of the UAW bargaining committee to speak at a public event on campus the week before the strike. They laid out why this strike is taking place: stagnant wages that don’t keep up with inflation while the UC regent fat cats take home salaries of hundreds of thousands of dollars. So many grad student workers across the state give up the majority of their wages back to the university through rent in UC housing. Attendees at the event heard the appalling anecdote of a grad student worker at one UC campus who was forced to live in a tent because their wages couldn’t keep up with rent on or off campus.

UCI students Image Socialist RevolutionUCI students in Socialist Revolution committed to having a daily presence at the picket line / Image: Socialist Revolution

Socialist Revolution comrades at UCI committed to having a daily presence at the picket line until the workers’ demands are met, also bringing material support such as food for the striking workers. They are joining hundreds of other workers and students in solidarity with the strike, marching with picket signs, chanting slogans, holding the picket line against potential scabs, promoting the action on our social media accounts, and distributing leaflets providing a Marxist perspective for the struggle. Among the speakers who addressed the crowd, there were many representatives of other unions, such as those that organise custodians in the UCI hospital as well as other unions in the Orange County Labor Federation.

The solidarity can be felt in the militant energy, and both grad workers and those supporting their fight are standing strong to staff the picket lines in the coming days. Many undergrad students voiced their support and are donating to the strike fund. Our comrades will continue to stand in solidarity with the striking teaching assistants at the UCs, putting forward a class-struggle program for the workers’ victory.

The New School strike: “Social justice is not a brand!”

The New School part-time faculty strike perfectly embodies the rapid growth in class consciousness we’re witnessing in the US. What began at 8:30AM as a picket line large enough to cover one entrance of the university center, soon grew in the following hours into a picket line that wrapped around the entire block, covering all main entrances of the building, as well as additional buildings on separate blocks.

Dozens of Socialist Revolution comrades in New York are mobilising to support this effort, joining the workers every week. The mood in the pickets is electric and militant, with marching bands playing to the chants of the workers. Broader working-class solidarity is on full display when post office workers, bus drivers, truck drivers, and others passing by honk and raise their fist enthusiastically. Chants of “Social justice [is] not a brand!” show that students and workers at The New School are sick of the school’s faux progressiveness. Many signs also jokingly make references to the school administration’s language, who referred to students as “customers” in their statements.

Part-time faculty make up 87% of all teaching staff of this prestigious, expensive university, represented by UAW Local 7902. This is the same union that also represents adjuncts at neighboring NYU, with a membership that recently voted 99% to authorise a strike if the contract doesn’t meet the workers’ demands. The New School administration is offering a measly 2.5% wage increase, which amounts to a large pay cut when adjusted for inflation after four years without any raises.

UAW strike 2 Image Socialist RevolutionThere is huge support among students for the strike / Image: Socialist Revolution

In addition to a more significant wage increase, key demands include remuneration for the hours upon hours of unpaid labor outside of class, better more affordable healthcare, and job stability and security. The union’s instagram account did a good job of building for the strike by sharing first-person anecdotes from some of the workers of their terrible experiences with the school administration.

There is huge support among students for the strike. Even though student workers are not unionised and full-time professors are in a different union, the administration’s attempts to exploit this weakness by pitting different layers of workers and students against each other largely failed. Many professors have canceled their classes and many student workers have been able to cancel their shifts. As a result, the university buildings are largely empty and only a small handful of students and staff cross the pickets. The Socialist Revolution student organisations at Pratt Institute and Pace University are also coming out to the picket, in a show of cross-school student-worker solidarity!

Starbucks strikes for a “Red Cup Rebellion”

Red Cup Day is a holiday-themed sales event for Starbucks Corporate, which is typically its most profitable day of operation. To hit them right in their pockets, the Starbucks Workers United union (SBWU) organised a one-day strike across the country for the 100+ unionised stores on November 17.

Starbucks Philadelphia Image Socialist RevolutionThe Philadelphia branches came out in full force for the Starbucks “Red Cup Day of Action” / Image: Socialist Revolution

The Philadelphia branches came out in full force for the “Red Cup Day of Action” that saw three unionised stores striking across the city. This came after a very successful public event put on by Temple Marxists, Drexel Marxists, and Socialist Revolution, with a speaker from the SBWU and Socialist Revolution editor Tom Trottier.

The early morning picket shift was more complicated. A manager and a scab from a different Starbucks location showed up just to mess with the picket, and to encourage some high schoolers that were passing by to harass the workers and steal their food. At a certain point, even the police showed up, though luckily the situation didn’t escalate beyond that. While a few customers were angry about the disruption to their morning coffee routine, many were receptive to the strike and refused to cross the picket line.

Later in the day, two pickets were combined to unite forces in one location for a stronger showing. Our comrades were able to talk with the workers and union organisers present, including the president of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Local 247—a union that is trying to organise service workers. The comrades joined in the picket chants and also led the chants with a megaphone. The workers genuinely appreciated the support, which also included supplies such as water, chips, and granola bars.

Two unionised stores in Arizona joined in the day of action, and Phoenix Socialist Revolution joined the picket at the Power and Baseline roads location. Enthusiasm was high among workers. They had music, a bounty of water bottles, coffee, donuts and pizza to share, and union-sponsored red cups. Management hadn’t brought in any scabs and only one worker crossed the picket line, so the organisers considered the strike a success.

In days and weeks prior, the Phoenix branches have also mobilised to attend large informational pickets of Southwestern and American Airline workers at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Hundreds of workers with the Transport Workers Union and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants gathered at the airport on different days to demand improved wages and conditions, such as an end to 24-hour shifts. When Socialist Revolution comrades spoke to workers about the need to generalise the struggle and link up with the different airline workers, many were open to the idea. A number of pilots, technicians, and mechanics also picketed in solidarity!

The Minneapolis/St. Paul branches went to pickets at two different Starbucks locations throughout the day. At the Snelling Ave store, a group of high-school students were also present to show their support. Their economics teacher organised the field trip—a sign of the times we are living through! The workers were very happy to get our comrades’ support, especially when they saw photos of Socialist Revolution branches joining different pickets across the country. There was overwhelming solidarity for the workers, with many people honking or stopping to share their support.

Minneapolis starbucks Image Socialist RevolutionThe Minneapolis/St. Paul branches went to pickets at two different Starbucks locations throughout the day / Image: Socialist Revolution

St. Louis Socialist Revolution will be joining an Amazon warehouse strike on Black Friday, after walking the Starbucks picket line on October 12–13. After the Starbucks workers won union recognition at this particular location, management union-busting activities—from hiring former Walmart managers to penalising workers for wearing union shirts. The latter was the excuse from management to fire a shift lead and union organiser.

Instead of getting bogged down in a fight over protected speech and labor law, these workers took matters into their own hands and walked out in protest, successfully shutting down the store. Overall the morale on the line was very high! In addition to SBWU workers, other unions showed up in support, such as the Teamsters, the Sheet Metal Workers Union, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

The Madison branches were very well received in the local Starbucks picket, having many good conversations with Starbucks workers. It was inspiring to see that many of them were also excited to learn more about socialism, with comrades distributing several pamphlets and copies of Socialist Revolution magazine. On the west coast,Bellingham Socialist Revolution likewise came out in force to walk the picket lines.

Overall, the choice of Red Cup Day for the strike was a good, creative idea. However, there is a long battle ahead to take on a corporation as massive as Starbucks. A one-day protest strike, announced the day of, with limited participation at only 100 out of 10,000 stores nationwide can only go so far. Still, it is inspiring to see the rise of a new, young, and fresh working class rearing its head for the first time in almost forty years.

For many workers, this was their first time striking and walking a picket line, with a worker in the Phoenix Starbucks explaining that they wanted to learn from this experience. The reawakening of the US labor movement today is only a preparation for even bigger battles to come, and Socialist Revolution is enthusiastically linking up with this process with Marxist ideas and organisation as part of the broader struggle against capitalism.

After years of apparent calm and passivity in the labor movement, it is inspiring to see the recent battles to organise new industries and the growing strike action to counter the erosion of workers’ wages. But to win these battles, the labor movement will need to go back to the combative class-war methods that built the unions in the first place.

The example of Canadian Marxists in the CUPE strike points the way forward!

The example of our comrades north of the border provides a clear picture of how workers can fight back. Over the past decade, Ontario education workers in the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) watched their real wages decline by 11%—just like workers across many industries in the US. But when the workers voted to strike, the Ontario provincial government imposed a non-negotiable contract on them, along with a no-strike clause, removing the one legal weapon in the workers’ hands. It is worth noting that the US government has also placed strict limits on the right to strike, since picket lines are not legally allowed to prevent scabs from passing, and effective methods of maximising workers’ power through solidarity strikes across industries were made illegal in the 1940s.

Education worker protest CUPE Image FightbackThe comrades in the CUPE rank-and-file committee raised the slogan of a general strike / Image: Fightback

What should workers do when their only means of defending their livelihoods are made illegal? This was the question facing workers at the beginning of the labor movement—after all, unions themselves were once illegal! The labor laws and institutions like the National Labor Relations Board are nothing but the legal tools at the disposal of the bosses. As Marx put it, the state is “but a committee for managing the common affairs of the entire bourgeoisie.”

With this understanding, comrades of the International Marxist Tendency in Ontario, many of them members of CUPE, launched a campaign to defy the back-to-work legislation. Organised in the CUPE rank-and-file committee, the comrades agitated for an illegal strike. Within days, this militant slogan became a reality. Since the state’s attack had removed any room for maneuver, putting the labor leaders against the wall, and given the pressure from the union ranks, the union leadership decided to launch an indefinite illegal strike.

The comrades in the CUPE rank-and-file committee raised the slogan of a general strike to escalate the struggle into an all-out mobilisation to bring down the provincial government. After two days of illegal striking, the Ontario Labor Federation began talking about preparing a general strike—something that would have been unthinkable just weeks prior.

The provincial government of Doug Ford, gripped with panic, was forced to back down. The strike ban was repealed, and tens of thousands of dollars in fines against the strikers were eliminated. The struggle is not over, but the workers are emboldened by the successful defeat of the anti-strike legislation, which has seriously weakened one of the legal weapons in the hands of the state. These methods of struggle show the way forward!

Winning the battles against major companies like Starbucks and Amazon, or against major university systems like the UCs, will require an all-out offensive by the labor movement. Above all, this fight will require class-struggle methods and a revolutionary perspective of the strength of the working class. Join us in the effort to build a strong Marxist current throughout the North American labor movement!

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