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Unions have been in the news and on people’s minds this year. In April, workers at a warehouse on Staten Island in New York formed the first ever U.S. Amazon union. There’s also been a wave of unionizations at Starbucks, as well as unionization efforts at Apple stores, Verizon stores, Trader Joe’s, and many other companies.
Union approval in the U.S. is also at its highest point in decades: over two thirds of Americans support labor unions, and over three quarters Americans support the Amazon unionization effort.
What has caused this unionization wave and renewed interest in labor struggle? For one, the coronavirus pandemic showed workers that they — not the bosses — were essential, and that the entire system depends upon our labor. The pandemic came after decades of neoliberalism had already chipped away at jobs, wages, and working conditions, and made life increasingly precarious for the working class.
Recent years have also seen the rise of “Generation U” for “Union.” This new generation of workers was forged in the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly during the 2020 uprisings after the brutal murder of George Floyd. This movement has evolved to include deep discussion of the ways that capitalism disenfranchises the specially oppressed, from attacks on Black lives to attacks on trans rights. Many of the workers who are driving today’s unionization efforts are seeing the connections between their own oppressed identities and their role as exploited members of the working class.
And yet, only around 10 percent of Americans are part of a union — far fewer than in earlier decades — and labor and unions are under fierce attack by capitalists. Union busting, including retaliatory firings, are happening in full force at Amazon, Starbucks, and other companies.
In addition to fighting for more unions, we also need to fight for class independence, and independence from both Democrats and Republicans. We also need to fight for democratic unions led by rank-and-file-workers which, in turn, needs to be a part of building a political organization that truly represents the interests of the working class and the oppressed. More than ever, we need a fighting labor movement.
In this episode, we discuss these topics with Left Voice editor and PSC-CUNY member James Hoff.
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