Unions across the nation are rediscovering the power of the strike and 2020 presidential candidates are paying close attention.
In their most recent attempt to woo the working class, democratic presidential candidates rushed to support more than 31,000 unionized Stop & Shop employees when they decided to strike on April 11. The workers – about 75 percent of whom are part-time workers – walked off the job at more than 200 locations of New England’s top grocery store chain over proposed increases in health care costs, reduced pension contribution for nonvested part-time workers and new hires, and cuts to overtime pay for part-time employees.
Even though the company had begun scouting for scabs, the current low unemployment rate made it nearly impossible for Stop & Shop bosses to find enough scabs to keep the doors open. The employers didn’t see the light until the strike received national attention, customers declined by up to 90 percent, the company lost up to $2 million in profits, and the strike attracted the support of more than half a dozen presidential candidates. Stop & Shop bosses conceded on April 21st, reaching an agreement providing the wage increases and health care benefits that they previously tried to eliminate.
Called the “2020 campaign trail stop-of-the-moment,” the overwhelming support for union Stop & Shop workers by both politicians and the public highlights the importance of supporting “kitchen table issues” that impact the lives of working families. Hopefully, this strike will remind political candidates to focus on basic issues that improve Americans’ daily lives instead of headline-grabbing spectacles that do not affect average working-class people.
Despite union membership being at record lows, America is in the middle of the largest strike wave since the mid-1980s. Teachers, fast food workers, part-time grocery store workers, and more have brought the power of strikes back to the forefront of the fight against corporate greed, and for the first time in many years, workers are winning their battles.
With each successful strike, the American Labor Movement becomes stronger. “A victory at Stop & Shop emboldens workers across the public and private sector,” said Lane Windham, a labor expert at Georgetown University. “People get energized when they see other people standing up and winning. They can inspire more people to walk out in 2019.”
As exemplified in the Stop & Shop strike, public support for unions and strikes is increasing with each year and each battle, and presidential hopefuls had better make sure they aren’t last to the table when it comes to supporting unions and the working class.