The right of workers to withhold their labor — to strike — is among the most important of human rights. No society can truly claim to respect liberty and deny workers the right to strike. International law recognizes the right to strike as a fundamental human right.
One of UE’s core principles, embedded in the preamble to our Constitution, is to “pursue at all times a policy of aggressive struggle to improve our conditions.” Throughout history, strikes have been critical to the growth of the labor movement, including UE. The right to strike is vital to maintain and improve our wages, benefits, and working conditions, and to resist the attack on democracy by anti-working class elements.
The ten-week strike by members of UE Locals 506 and 618 in Erie, PA in the summer of 2023 got national attention for their bold demands, including their efforts to regain the right to strike over grievances mid-contract. While they did not win everything they wanted to, they were able to vastly improve the company’s economic offer and make many non-economic gains, including forcing much greater accountability and corporate responsiveness to shop-floor problems.
The Wabtec strike in Erie was a model UE strike: the locals spent months preparing their membership, making arrangements to sustain their members during a long battle if necessary, and keeping the members informed during both negotiations and the strike itself. They had the full support of their community, of politicians across the political spectrum, and of allies throughout the state and the country.
Strike action, and credible strike threats, played an important role in securing several UE contracts over the past two years. In March of 2023 the nearly 700 members of Local 1004 engaged in a one-day unfair labor practice strike against their employer, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, which helped to achieve the settlement of a new three-year agreement. Strike authorization votes by Locals 228, 1008, 1123 and 1137 were essential to securing satisfactory new contracts, and the memory of Local 625’s one-day strike in 2019 helped them secure a one-year contract extension with no increases to health insurance and a decent wage increase.
In the public sector, workers in 39 states lack the legal right to strike. As UE’s public-employee members can attest, mandatory arbitration disempowers the rank and file in the negotiation of their own contract. Recent legislative attacks on public workers included rollbacks of the right to strike where it once existed.
As was the case with the public-sector labor upsurge in the 1970s, just because a strike action is nominally “illegal” doesn’t mean it can’t be successful. Just two weeks before our convention, solid waste workers in the city of Durham, NC refused to load their work trucks on September 6, demanding that the city make up for the two years their step pay plan was essentially frozen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The strike is far from dead. The current strike by 170,000 writers and actors in Hollywood is enjoying wide public support, a strike authorization vote by the Teamsters won historic gains in the largest private-sector union contract in the U.S., and as we meet, UAW members have initiated a rolling strike during negotiations with the “Big Three” auto companies. However, a broad grassroots campaign by labor and its allies is necessary to reestablish our right to strike without limitation, without the threat of being replaced, and, if necessary, during our contracts to ensure that our employers are accountable for honoring those agreements.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 78th UE CONVENTION:
- Calls for the continued use of the strike as the primary weapon against the employer, characterized by careful planning and timing, full membership involvement, and mobilization of community and political support;
- Directs the national union to provide renewed member education on UE strike policy;
- Urges locals to seek the right to strike on grievances as part of their collective bargaining demands;
- Calls upon locals and regions to include as part of their political action work a demand for the restoration of the right to strike for private and public workers without retaliation or replacement;
- Encourages UE members and locals to learn more about the need to restore the right to strike by reading Joe Burns’ books Reviving the Strike and Strike Back; and learn about their legal rights and effective tactics in strikes by reading Robert Schwartz’s Strikes, Picketing and Inside Campaigns; and the UE pamphlet Preparing For and Conducting A Strike: A UE Guide.