If it seems like it’s been a really long time since anyone has seen a good labor strike, that’s because it has been. Here’s some charts that show just how dramatic and how long it’s been since Labor Strikes have had any real impact. All data comes from the BLS:
Here’s the view from the economic impact that strikes have had over time:
To add a starker contrast, let’s just look from 1976:
If it seems like things changed in 1981, that because they did. Not only did Ronald Regan adopt a policy of Union Busting (vis-à-vis the Air Traffic Controller’s strike), but the Supreme Court ruled in the 1980s that striking workers could be replaced.
It’s hard to say if some of the recent retail strikes will produce a good labor strike. The demographics of today’s labor striker are much different than in the past. According to the BLS:
- 40% of America’s low wage (retail) workers are at least middle aged
- 43% of low wage (retail) workers have a college education
- 27% of low wage (retail) workers have dependent children
Labor Strikes have historically been the “nuclear” option of labor to achieve something resembling equality in the workplace. It was both a social and economic leverage tool. Since striking workers can be replaced, the political, social and economic questions will become:
- Can striking workers convince others NOT to replace them?
- With high unemployment will the “reserve labor pool” work for below subsistence wages?
- With super low wages, will there be enough of a work stoppage to impact profits?
Because of the low margins and wages that make up retail, striking will be a hard thing to do if labor can organize in retail. However, America could use a good strike.