After more than 30 years of retreat, the revival of workers' struggles in Britain has been closely followed by workers in other Western European countries. It indicates a rupture, a change in the dynamics of the class struggle at the international level and a renewal of a class perspective. It shows that the proletariat has not been defeated at the historical level and that it is once again beginning to resist the growing attacks on its living conditions, drawing attention to the inhuman situation endured by all the exploited in the world. The working class in the USA has also suffered from attacks on its living and working conditions, with increased workloads and reduced purchasing power.
Strikes in the USA: a confirmation of the international dimension of the class struggle
Faced with worsening working and living conditions, the proletariat in the United States has also demonstrated that it is not willing to accept further attacks arising from the economic crisis. In 2021 a large number of struggles had already taken place in what was called Striketober (from "strike" and "October"); there were 346 strikes by workers in various sectors, with the workers in the health sector prominent, demanding improved wages and better working conditions. In October, 4.3 million American workers were already mobilised. These struggles continued into 2022 when struggles re-emerged in Europe. 385 strikes were recorded, escalating in October once again, one month before the mid-term elections.
In the health sector, the scale of mobilisation has reached historic levels.
Some of the most important strikes in 2022 were in the health sector, raising common demands for increased wages, improved benefits and increased staffing levels (a single worker is now being asked to do the work of what was previously done by several workers and overtime has become compulsory). They are also demanding more protection against dangerous conditions for patients and staff, like those caused by the pandemic. As an example, more than 55,000 social service workers in Los Angeles voted to strike on 6 May, and 15,000 nurses in Minnesota and Wisconsin on 12-15 September staged what is believed to be the largest-ever strike of private sector nurses.
Demonstrations and similar demands have continued in this sector, with more than 17,000 nurses involved in January 2023, with 7,000 in Manhattan and the Bronx hospitals in New York going on strike, rejecting the improved offer of the employers who ignored placards declaring: "workers are exhausted and burned out". The fact that the unions prevented nurses in other hospitals from showing their solidarity weakened the 9-12 January strike and finally they were forced to accept the same raise granted to other hospitals and returned to work.
The demand for strike action by US railworkers threatens to disrupt economic activity
The call for strike action on the railways threatened to spread across the country, severely affecting the production and distribution networks and impacting the national economy less than two months before the mid-term elections. More than 115,000 railway workers from various companies were demanding strike action on 16 September 2022.
The working conditions in this sector have worsened as the major rail companies have cut nearly a third of their workforce; 45,000 workers have been made redundant in the last six years. They have also aggressively cut costs, running fewer but longer trains with a reduced workforce and with harsher working conditions with train drivers and conductors working shifts that can last for up to 24 hours and with workers effectively denied time off for medical appointments or to cope with family problems by being penalised financially. The train derailment in Ohio on 3 February, resulting in large quantities of highly toxic and carcinogenic vinyl chloride going up in flames, put thousands of people's lives in danger, including railworkers, and shows the deadly irresponsibility of the railroad companies that increase the length and load of trains for higher profits
The strike threat came after 3 years of conflict during which companies made record profits by imposing harsher working conditions forcing many workers to resign. When the White House proposed that "the tensions needed resolving without jeopardising the economy or undermining Democrat support among working people", the unions cooperated fully. President Biden had already averted the strike in July by imposing a "cooling-off period", which expired on 9 September with workers still wanting action. Then, in negotiations on 15 September, Biden again intervened by forming a "Presidential Emergency Board" and blackmailed the workers into not taking strike action because of 'the damage it would cause to everyone'. The unions cooperated to prevent strike action by granting time to the US House of Representatives and Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, to enact a new law within the space of two days, on 30 November, that would prevent strike disruption to the rail network. In other words, it was not only the intervention of Democrat Biden, but above all the union sabotage of the struggle and its control over the workers which ensured that the living and working conditions of railworkers would only worsen
The struggles unite in the face of attacks from the bosses, the government and the sabotage of the unions
We must draw lessons from current and past struggles and use them in future struggles as discontent continues to grow in different sectors such as education. On 14 November 2022, what has been called "the largest of academic strikes in the United States", involving 48,000 teachers, led to a five weeks stoppage and a demand for higher wages and improved working conditions at the University of California, one of the largest public educational institutions in the United States and home to 280,000 students from all over the world. The strike was called by assistant professors, postdoctoral academics and researchers. Researchers and postdoctoral academics had reached a tentative agreement in early December that improved their contract situation but then both groups agreed to continue the strike until there was a resolution for the assistant professors, the most vulnerable group and the one with the heaviest workloads. This show of solidarity is an important lesson for workers everywhere.
A few months later, 65,000 school employees and state school teachers staged the largest strike in the United States since 2019. Tens of thousands joined the picket lines and held a massive demonstration on 21 March 2023; it was the first of three days of an extended citywide strike across Los Angeles. Workers serving 420,000 elementary and special education students also struck demanding improved wages and a reduction to workloads. It was the lowest paid workers (canteen and office workers, drivers, janitors and special education assistants) who triggered the strike. They were joined by thousands of teachers, showing their solidarity and unity, an essential factor in the development of the struggles.
In the same dynamic and for the first time in Rutgers University's 257-year history, 9,000 workers serving 67,000 students, went on strike on 10 April. Teachers, researchers, physicians and graduate students at campuses in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden demanded wage increases, equal pay for associate lecturers, as well as demanding an end to semester-only contracts. In an email these workers said: "We are moved & motivated by the huge show of active support from members, students, co-workers and partners in the community. TOGETHER WE ARE STRONG & WE WILL WIN a #FairContractNow! #RUOnSTRIKE”.
The strikes continue. About 11,500 film and TV scriptwriters at Hollywood studios began their first strike in 16 years on 1 May for wage increases and for a pension plan and health insurance. They were joined by 160,000 actors who called for a strike on 13 June, not having done so since 1980, and they will be joined by screenwriters for the first time in more than 60 years. Also, in early May, 600 Metropolitan Transit System bus drivers began strike action and demonstrations demanding higher wages and improved working conditions. Several routes throughout San Diego County were affected. And on 2 June, 15,000 workers at 41 hotels in Southern California and in Arizona began a 3-day strike and are threatening more strikes to achieve their demands. There are also 459,000 UPS workers (involved in parcel delivery) who are preparing for a possible strike on 1 August.
It is important to learn lessons from other struggles around the world.
The proletariat must unite and develop its consciousness of the need to overthrow the capitalist system and build a world community without borders or other divisions.
The economic crisis is forcing workers around the world to defend its living and working conditions and to confront the unions. The working class in the US is increasing its consciousness of its exploited conditions, but it needs to unify its struggles and reflect on past experiences and lessons arising from the mobilisations by the proletariat in Europe.
The recent struggles in Britain and France have reminded us that: "We must take the control of our struggles into our own hands"; "We must come together to discuss and draw the lessons of past struggles. The methods of struggle should express the strength of the working class, those which, at certain moments in history, have shaken the bourgeoisie and its system, namely:
- Extending support and solidarity beyond sector, town, region or country;
- Holding the widest possible discussion about the needs of the struggle;
- Taking back control of the struggle through general assemblies away from the control of the unions or other bourgeois organisations, to prepare for the united and autonomous struggles of tomorrow! " .
Faced with capitalist barbarism, the working class must renew its struggles worldwide in defence of its living standards by acquiring the lessons of its past defeats.