Bad Headlines

Today (January 27) a NYTimes article by Taylor Johnston was headlined: “The Labor Movement is Popular, Prominent, and Also Shrinking.” This was followed by the standard pablum of graphs of union membership that you can get from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Union membership is not the labor movement, any more than high heeled pumps are “shoes”. (Does anyone use the word “pumps” any more?)

But yesterday Portside posted a story from Magnolia State Live about school bus drivers in Mississippi. There was a “labor shortage” of drivers (people had quit? Retired early? Didn’t want to catch COVID from unvaccinated kids?) so the school district hired replacement drivers but was going to pay them $25 per hour, as compared to the $12-15 per hour that the still-working drivers were getting. WHAT???? So the still-working drivers struck. It was a one hour strike. The School Board convened and the drivers got $20 per hour, the same day.

That’s the labor movement. It would be the labor movement even if the drivers weren’t organized in the sense of having a recognized union.

That one hour strike, despite being successful, is not going to show up on the BLS statistics of strikes.

IMHO, replacing “unions” with “movement” in an article that trumpets how weak workers are these days, is intentional dis-information.

Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

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