Strikes plumb the depths

Although there have been plenty of reports of rising labor militancy in the US—teachers’ strikes, tech and delivery app organizing—it’s sadly not showing up in the strike data. In its annual release, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there were just 7 major “work stoppages” (which include lockouts as well as strikes) in 2020, tied with 2017 for the second-lowest number since 1947, and beaten only by 2009’s 5. What strike action there was, says the BLS, was mainly against state and local government employers (5 of them), not private… Read More

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link): September 19, 2019 Sam Gindin on the UAW’s strike against GM, and the possibilities for the green repurposing of a plant GM is abandoning • Robin Einhorn on the role of slavery in shaping tax politics in the early US (article here)

Sadly, there is no strike wave

In a September 8 post to the Jacobin website, Eric Dirnbach announced that “US workers are striking again.” In the piece, he discloses: That’s why it’s fascinating that in 2018, we’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of large work stoppages. I count sixteen for the first half of the year, including one lockout, which if this trend continues, puts us on track for thirty-two for the full year. The number of large work stoppages has not been thirty or more since the year 2000. It would be lovely if this were true, but it’s not…. Read More

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link): August 30, 2018 Raven Rakia, a journalist with The Appeal, on the nationwide prison strike (more here and here) • Asad Haider, author of Mistaken Identity, on race and class [the source of the info on the Shostakovich quartet is here]

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link): July 19, 2018 Rebecca Gordon explains why Nicaraguans are protesting the Ortega government (article here) • Alex Gourevitch on how the workplace is authoritarian, and why strikes are essential (article here)

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link): March 22, 2018 Jennifer Berkshire, host of Have You Heard?, on teachers’ strikes, WV and beyond • Stan Collender on fiscal follies in DC

Smaller strikes also in decline

Several readers responded to the recent post on strikes by asking if the BLS stats, which cover stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, are missing smaller-scale actions. (And I should say that I’m being imprecise by calling all stoppages “strikes,” since the figures also include lockouts.) Alas, no. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service publishes data on all work stoppages, regardless of the number of workers involved. The numbers from 1984 through 2016 are graphed below. Smaller strikes peaked at 1,142 in 1985, which looks big by recent standards. If the trajectory… Read More

The disappearing strike

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures released this morning, last year saw the second-smallest number of major strikes in recorded history: seven. This is close to the record low set in 2009, five—in the depths of the Great Recession, when the unemployment rate was approaching 10%. Last year’s average unemployment rate was less than half that, 4.3%. Here’s the grim history of the decline of labor’s most powerful weapon in two graphs: The number of days of “idleness”—a curiously moralizing word for an instrument of class struggle—wasn’t as close to a… Read More

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive: May 25, 2017 James Whitman, author of Hitler’s American Model, on the U.S. origins of Nazi race law • Alex Gourevitch, contributor to this Boston Review roundtable, on strikes and their challenge to bourgeois law


The strike—labor’s most powerful weapon against capital, except maybe sabotage—is disappearing even more rapidly than unions, which is saying a lot. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that there were 15 work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers in 2016. That’s 1 above the average of the past five years, and down 96% from the average of the late 1940 and 1950s. (Stoppages include both strikes and lockouts—the data series doesn’t distinguish between the two. The overwhelming majority are strikes. Notable exceptions in recent years have been in professional sports,… Read More

Strike wave!

There are many ways to measure the death of organized labor as a social force in the U.S. Here’s what might be the most objective one: the virtual disappearance of labor’s ultimate weapon, the strike. The graph above shows the annual number of major strikes, as tallied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The front page for all their strike/lockout stats is here: Work Stoppages Home Page.) The figure for 2010 annualizes what we’ve experienced so far this year. The little uptick, from a total of 5 in 2009 to 20 in 2010,… Read More