Comparing labor unrest: North vs. South
Last year the West Virginia school teachers inspired teacher strikes all over the country. This week the Republicans retaliated.
The West Virginia state Senate approved legislation last week that would make it legal to fire or withhold pay from teachers who strike -- a move critics say is retaliation for two statewide teacher strikes in as many years.
Passed with no Democratic support, the Student Success Act also includes a provision to allow charter schools that was previously defeated by striking teachers and would prevent superintendents from closing schools during strikes.
The courage of the West Virginia school teachers cannot be understated, but what they were unable to do is to bring the U.S. labor movement back from the dead.
Of the 485,000 individual strikers last year 457,200 were teachers and other public employees. Of this, the vast majority of individual strikers were teachers in the West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado. The other major group public employee group was a two-day strike of service workers at the University of California.
Isolating the private sector strike activity, we find nothing remarkable by standards of recent years. Almost 28,000 private sector employees struck or were locked out in nine major disputes in 2018. The most high-profile and largest numbers included strikes by hotel workers, members of Unite Here. These strikes are the culmination of years of strategic activity to line up local hotel contracts to take on giant hotel chains, the sort of strategic vision that is sorely lacking in most unions.
Labor in the U.S., outside of teachers, is moribund.
Now compare that to what is happening in South America in just the last two weeks.
In Argentina workers are striking against neoliberalism.
Closely tied to the Peronist political opposition, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) is demanding the government reduce the tax burden borne by workers and implement salary increases that match high inflation. Prices in Argentina are up more than 50 percent over the last year.
The protests are also targeting the rise in fees for services - the result of government efforts to cut the deficit under a financing deal with the International Monetary Fund, and a measure that has caused poverty levels to rise.
It's a similar story in Brazil.
Early in the day commuters found themselves stranded in front of closed gates at metro, train and bus stations across the country. Papers taped to the gates of banks, schools and shops, warned a strike was ongoing, as workers blocked roads, office buildings and highway tolls.
As part of the pension reform proposal, the government will seek to raise the retirement age and increase workers' contributions. The government has said the reforms would generate billions of dollars in savings, and kick-start Brazil's stagnant economy. But many Brazilians and their unions say the reforms will increase inequalities and hurt workers.