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Restore the Right to Strike
The right of workers to withhold their labor, to strike, is among the most fundamental of human rights. No democratic society worthy of the name can truly claim to respect the liberty of its citizens and deny their right to strike.
The founders of our union recognized that as critical as the principle of rank-and-file control might be, it was by itself insufficient to achieve our goals in the workplace and in society. Accordingly, the preamble to the UE Constitution describes the union as pursuing “at all times a policy of aggressive struggle to improve our conditions.”
The upsurge of the working class in the 1930’s, led by unions that included UE, in the newly formed Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was marked by many significant strikes, which contributed greatly to the unprecedented progress for working people in the ensuing period.
Far from being “outmoded” as claimed by employers and even some labor “statesmen,” strikes continue to be used by workers around the world to great effect. In Europe, for example, workers are being asked to undergo severe cutbacks in social programs under “austerity” budgets to pay for the economic crisis created by banks, corporations, and their political enablers. In response, workers have undertaken a number of mass strikes, most notably in Greece.
Strikes by Egyptian unionists played a crucial role in providing the impetus to topple the corrupt Mubarak regime. Indeed in the democratic upsurge taking place in much of the Arab world, trade unionists have with great courage, struck in support of democratic reforms, often in the face of brutal repression.
In our country, however, the right to strike has been badly eroded. Where that right exists at all it often amounts to the “right” to be replaced. This and the massive unemployment which characterizes the present economic crisis, has led to a precipitous decline in the number of strikes. The years of 2009 and 2010 saw the fewest number of major strikes since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started collecting data in 1947. In 2009 there were only five major strikes affecting 13,000 workers, both all time low figures. In 2010, there were only 11 major strikes affecting 45,000 workers, making it the second lowest year on record.
In the public sector, most workers lack the legal right to strike, and recent legislative attacks on public workers have included rolling back the right to strike where it exists. The lack of the right to strike renders public employees more vulnerable to the budget-cutting attacks. This weakness also emboldens anti-union politicians to extend their attacks to abrogating contracts, and even to curtailing drastically the right of collective bargaining, as in Wisconsin, Ohio, and a number of other states. Nevertheless, many teachers and other public sector workers have withheld their labor as part of the fightback against such repressive measures, often at great risk to their personal livelihoods.
A recent NLRB decision found Boeing illegally moved jobs in retaliation for members exercising their right to strike. However, this pro-worker ruling led to a hysterical reaction by the Chamber of Commerce, right-wing media, and politicians, laying bare their intent to entirely stamp out the right to strike. This culminated in a September 15, 2011 vote by Republicans in the House of Representatives to make employer retaliation legal.
The right to strike is vital to our ongoing fight to maintain our wages, benefits and working conditions, and more generally to resist the attack on democracy in our society by anti-union and anti-working class elements. A broad grassroots campaign by labor and its allies is necessary to reestablish our right to strike without limitation, and without the threat of being replaced. This includes the right to strike over unresolved grievances during the life of the contract, as exists in the UE-GE National Agreement.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 72nd UE CONVENTION:
- Calls for the continued use of the right to strike as a primary weapon against the employer, characterized by careful planning and timing, full membership involvement, and mobilization of all possible community and political support;
- Recommends renewed education of members on UE strike policy, and urges locals to seek the right to strike on expired grievances as part of their collective bargaining demands;
- Calls upon locals and regions to include as part of their political action work the restoration of the right to strike without retaliation or replacement, and the extension of that right to all public sector workers, as part of any comprehensive labor law reform at all levels.