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Workers across the United States are fed up, and rightfully so. Workers at Nabisco and Frito Lay went on strike earlier this year, and Amazon workers across the country have been attempting to unionize their workplaces after the company violated labor laws to crush a unionization effort in Bessemer, Ala.bama this April. Worker shortages have forced some companies to raise wages to attract workers, while others complain about “nobody wanting to work anymore.”
Supporting workers and unions is really important. People have a right to be treated with dignity on the job and make more than the bare minimum to live. People died for workers’ rights in this country. From the 1870s to the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, many, many workers were killed and brutalized fighting for their rights. Around 100 miners were killed during the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia in 1921, 19 people, including 12 children, were killed in 1914 during the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado, and in 1912, during the Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts., children were beaten by police while supporting their striking parents.
For decades after the NLRA was passed, unions and workers were a force to be reckoned with. However, a combination of anti-communism, the passage of anti-worker laws such as the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, which banned solidarity strikes and micromanaged unions to the point where they couldn’t be effective, state-level Right-to-work laws, which undermine union dues, a series of Supreme Court decisions, and Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers has decimated the union movement in this country.
When workers go on strike, the barrier between the public and their workplace is known as a picket line. The term refers to a time when striking workers would form a physical line in front of their workplaces, but it can mean any such barrier, even if it’s not a physical one. But what does it mean to not cross a picket line? It means that if workers at a company or in an industry are on strike, you do not buy from that company or industry or support it financially in any way. If a company can’t respect their workers, we can flex our muscles and support their organizing by causing the company to lose revenue. It is vital not to cross a picket line because doing so undermines workers’ movements. If you have the means to not cross a picket line, don’t.
Here are some strikes you can support right now:
In Iowa, members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union who work for the John Deere manufacturing company have been fighting against a plan by the company to raise their wages and benefits while at the same time ending the pension program for all future employees. The workers have overwhelmingly rejected the contract. While the company is selling out future employees, it has been raking in record profits. On Monday, October 11, the workers should have returned to the negotiating table, and if an acceptable contract is not reached by Wednesday, there will be a strike. Most Lawrence students probably won’t be buying tractors, but John Deere also sells hats, sweatshirts and other merchandise. If you were planning to buy any John Deere merch, you can support the workers by waiting until the strike is over.
Another important strike that might be easier for Lawrence students to support is the Kellogg’s strike. 1,400 unionized workers at the Kellogg’s plants in Memphis, Omaha, Battle Creek, and Lancaster have gone on strike this month. The workers have been protesting 16- hour overtime shifts, 7-day work weeks, cuts to health insurance and vacation pay, and reduced retirement benefits, as well as the hiring of “transitional workers” who make low wages with the promise of future higher wages. At the same time, Kellogg’s made $4.776 billion between June 2020 and June 2021. Kellogg’s has threatened to hire non-union workers to work during the strike. The workers are members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union and products include Apple Jacks, Cheez-Itz, Pringles, Pop Tarts, Froot Loops, Eggo, Mini Wheats, Nutri-Grain and Rice Krispies.
Note: These conditions change day by day, and by the time this article is published, conditions at John Deere and Kellogg’s might be different. Regardless, it’s important to support workers whenever they fight for better pay and conditions, and never, ever cross a picket line.