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Strike Waves Across the U.S. & Europe Show Workers are Fighting Back

Travis Cunha

Oct 17, 2022

In recent months, workers from different fields and regions across the United States have either gone on strike or threatened to do so. The unrest only compounds the economic problems facing the Biden administration, including rising inflation and soaring health insurance premiums, up 28% from last year's. Increasing medical care and insurance costs have affected nurses as well, with healthcare professionals striking and others being authorized to strike by their union. The possibility of further strikes occurring among railroad and dock workers across the country threatens already-impacted supply chains as the holidays approach.

Nurses Strike

Over 7,000 nurses from a dozen hospitals recently ended a three-day strike in Minnesota. While the strike did not result in a new agreement between the Minnesota Nurses Association and their employers, strikers hope their recent actions can revive negotiations for a new contract that have stalled for months. The nurses claim the impasse comes from disagreement over salary pay and staffing. Nurse Kelly Anaas touted the strike as a victory, “We had three days to send a message to the hospitals on what it’s gonna be like to work without us and we’re really feeling confident that that message has been received by them.”

While nurses in Minnesota are returning to work, other healthcare professionals at the University of Temple recently also voted to authorize a strike if no progress is made soon in their union’s dispute with the hospital. The Pennsylvania Staff Nurses and Allied Health Professionals, representing over 2,500 nurses and other staff, voted overwhelmingly to support a strike if their demands are not adequately addressed.

Dock Workers Refuse to be Replaced by Automation

Discussions between West Coast dock workers and their employers have similarly hit a roadblock since May. Many workers have contracts that expired July 1st, adding to the anxiety and lack of optimism on reaching a new deal. One of the biggest issues in negotiations is the role of future automation. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union represents workers at twenty-nine different ports across Washington, California, and Oregon. Workers complain that increased automation has meant the elimination of jobs. While employers claim automation in fact benefits workers’ pay in the long term, dock employees disagree, insisting the trend has de-skilled and made their work more tedious.

President Joe Biden has reached out to both negotiating parties in hopes of averting a massive disruption in what are already the two worst-rated ports in the world on administration and efficiency, according to the World Bank. However, a divide remains over automation and pay, and an agreement does not seem any closer.

Railroad and Fuel Workers in US and Europe

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employee Division represents the interest of railroad workers, and recently voted to reject a new contract. Workers of the union voted against a 24% increase in pay and “other incentives” in the contract, which were not disclosed. Over 11,000 workers voted, with the “no” votes winning 6,646 - 5,100. Union President Tony Cardwell claimed, “Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard. Railroaders do not feel valued. They resent the fact that management holds no regard for their quality of life, illustrated by their stubborn reluctance to provide a higher quantity of paid time off, especially for sickness. The result of this vote indicates that there is a lot of work to do to establish goodwill and improve the morale that has been broken by the railroads’ executives and Wall Street hedge fund managers.”

To avoid a strike, all twelve railroad unions in the country need to agree to a new contract; so far only four have agreed, with elections set to end in November. While the strike in the United States may occur, railroad workers in the United Kingdom did go on strike, as did workers in Edinburgh, Scotland, which dramatically reduced public rail service. The strike occurred after the union voted to reject a new contract that increased pay by just 5%.

Another European country facing worker strikes is France. The General Confederation of Labor has paralyzed French oil companies to the extent that the French government has had to step in, ordering some back to work. The union called on its members to continue the strike, which has also spread to other sectors of the energy sector. In an extreme attempt to intimidate workers back to their jobs, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne warned that the French government is prepared to use “force” to restart plants owned by companies like Exxon. It seems the General Confederation of Labor is calling the Prime Minister Borne’s bluff to find out whether they will in fact be forced back to work at these fuel refineries.

The impact of ongoing labor strikes in our own country has the potential to disrupt the upcoming holiday season in an already volatile moment for the Biden administration with midterms next month. No wonder, then, that the president has reached out to dock and railroad workers on the other side of the negotiating table. With this administration’s approval rating and legacy being hammered daily by the rising costs of rent, food, gas, and utilities, the last thing it needs is a wave of strikes across the United States if it is to gain any support from working class Americans.

Images via the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employee Division's Facebook page, the Minnesota Nurses Association, and the IWLU.

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