Strikes have been remarkably uncommon in recent American life — compared to the 1940s and ’50s.
That may be changing, though. Faced with a right-wing presidential administration, people are striking to protest a range of federal policies. I recently wrote about the Women’s March and the Inauguration Day strike, as well as the NYC taxi drivers’ and Yemeni bodega owners’ work stoppages that followed over President Donald Trump’s travel ban against people from seven Muslim-dominated countries.
The strike calls have continued. Immigrant workers and business owners stayed off the job in a Feb. 16 Day Without Immigrants. The same day, federal contract workers (part of a coalition of unions and advocacy groups called Good Jobs Defenders) also struck, protesting Trump’s then-labor secretary nominee, Andrew Puzder, as well as Trump’s plans for anti-union legislation. Others called for a general strike against Trump on Feb. 17. And on March 8, International Women’s Day, many women’s rights activists are calling for a “day without women.”
Not all of February’s strikes were well-coordinated — nor accompanied by massive protests or disruption. It’s unclear how many people participated.
Some businesses, such as Brooklyn’s Bergen Bagels, closed on the Day Without Immigrants. But while 25,000 people on one Facebook page advertising the Feb. 17 “general strike” claimed they participated, off the internet, evidence of the strike was scarce. Metro-North trains ran, and it was easy to buy coffee in Grand Central Terminal. No one I met that day discussed the strike.
Labor unions could help because they have the resources to organize people and to protect striking workers’ jobs.
For instance, the Feb. 16 strike by Good Jobs Defenders was a good start. But the work stoppages also need participation from workers with the power to directly affect the economy. Without transit workers, child care providers and schoolteachers, many of us couldn’t get to work; without truck drivers, goods can’t reach stores.
Strikes work in other countries, and often worked for American workers in the past. But we are clearly out of practice.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.