The Working Class Is on Strike
November 4, 2021
By John Fetterman, The Nation
Across the country we are witnessing a historic strike wave, with over 22,000 US union members on strike right now. From our BCTGM Local 374G right here in Lancaster, Pa., on strike against the greed of Kellogg’s, to the 10,000 UAW workers at John Deere plants walking off the factory floor, the Ironworkers Regional Shop Local 851 on strike against Erie Strayer Company in northwestern Pennsylvania, or the 24,000 health care workers at Kaiser Permanente on the west coast who have overwhelmingly authorized a strike, workers have had enough, and they are taking action.
For years the working class in this country have been pushed to the brink, while corporate bosses and shareholders have reaped nearly all the benefits of their labor. During the past two years alone, American workers have kept our country up and running during the pandemic, making sure we have food on our shelves and keeping the lights on. But while the working class in America has broken their backs to keep our nation functioning, they have yet to reap the fruits of their labor.
Now more than ever, the rich are getting richer while the workers are left with crumbs. Just look at John Deere, which is expected to make over $5.7 billion in profits this year, and the CEO took home $15.6 million in 2020—a 160 percent raise from 2019. And last year Kellogg’s authorized $1.5 billion in stock buybacks to pad its shareholders’ pockets, yet these corporations and executives want to cry poor when it comes to sharing the wealth with the workers who created it. It should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention that these workers have had enough of this corporate greed and raw exploitation to decide to finally take direct action.
I live across the street from a union hall in Braddock, Pa., and I know just how important the union way of life is to families across America. When I was born to two very young parents, my father worked as a union grocery worker with the UFCW in Reading, Pa., stocking shelves at the Shop-Rite. The union helped him work his way through college, and I’ve never forgotten the stability his union was able to provide our family during the early years of my life.
The union way of life is sacred to me. It’s why last month I was proud to join the workers on strike with BCTGM Local 374G in Lancaster, Pa., on the picket line and the workers on strike with Ironworkers Regional Shop Local 851 against Erie Strayer Company in Erie, Pa. And it’s why I am proud to have asked our hundreds of thousands of supporters to donate directly to unions’ strike funds, as I did for both the BCTGM workers I stood with in Lancaster and the UAW workers on strike against John Deere across the midwest.
I don’t point out these actions for a pat on the back but to emphasize how there needs to be more action to support the union way of life across this country. Politicians have sought the support of unions and their rank-and-file members over and over, every couple of years when we need their vote, but it’s time to back up rhetoric and take action.
So, now more than ever, Democrats in Washington need to show American workers that they actually have their back. While workers across the country walk the picket line, they need to know that our leaders in Washington are taking concrete action to support them.
Democrats have power—we finally have the White House, the Senate, and the House. We must ask ourselves, if we do not act now and support the American workers, when will we? There is no excuse for the Senate to not take up and pass the PRO Act and a $15 minimum wage immediately and send it to President Biden’s desk to become law.
But passing the PRO Act and a $15 minimum wage should be the floor, not the ceiling, when it comes to standing with the working men and women of this country. Democrats need to pass legislation and sign executive orders that put more power directly into the hands of workers. We must take action and give workers a voice on corporate boards, invest in training and apprenticeships for trade workers, protect worker pensions and retirement savings, combat workplace discrimination, provide adequate child care and paid family leave, allow federal workers to go on strike, keep jobs in America and penalize companies that move jobs overseas, and dramatically protect, expand, and encourage union membership across this country.
Doing these things will not only result in real material gains for the workers across the country; it will also show that Democrats are truly the only party who will fight for the interest of workers. The time to pass these policies was yesterday.
The past two years forced workers nationwide to put their lives on the line every day to keep food on our tables and take care of us during the pandemic. And now these brave workers are putting it all on the line again as they go on strike across the country. The union way of life is sacred. It’s what built this nation. It’s time for us to finally fight for the working class and take action. They have had our backs for years; now we need to have theirs.
Note: John Fetterman is the current Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania and a candidate for the United States Senate.