What do Alabama coal miners, Massachusetts nurses, Hollywood assistants, and Kellogg’s employees all have in common? If you said that they’re all-American workers who are striking in a collective effort to better their working conditions known as “Striketober”, you’d be correct!
Oct. 1 didn’t just kick off the Halloween season, it also kicked off one of the largest revivals of union activity and a widespread wave of strikes in the United States in recent history. Known as “Striketober”, the strikes began earlier this month, and have included more than 100,000 workers. These workers are diverse in their respective fields. Over 10,000 employees at the company John Deere, which makes agricultural equipment, walked out in an effort to get increased pay and better conditions last week. They join 1,400 workers at Kellogg’s who have been on strike since Oct. 5 and 24,000 nurses in California and Oregon who began their strike on Oct. 11. These are just a few examples of the many individuals who have quit their jobs or refused to go into work.
The catalyst for Striketober is another phenomenon with an oh-so subtle name. Known as “the Great Resignation” or “the Big Quit”, which refers to the labor shortage caused by weary workers walking away from low-paying jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic as they were forced to work in conditions that exposed them to a highly infectious disease with little protection. The Great Resignation began in April 2021. In August of that year, 3.6% of non-farm workers had quit their jobs. That is the highest figure of people leaving employment in at least two decades. This provided an opportunity for workers to demand better working conditions, and demonstrate that they are not replaceable, though their employers may treat them as such. Considering working class people have long been exploited, and with the drastic decline in union prevalence over the past decades combined with the harsh impacts of the pandemic on the American working class it seems inevitable that a resurgence in strikes and pro-union movements have occurred.
Massachusetts is no exception from Striketober. At Saint Vincent’s Hospital in the nearby city of Worcester, Massachusetts over 700 nurses are striking, and have been since March 8. They are protesting a decreased quality in patient care due to staffing issues, leading them and their patients to be put in unsafe situations. They make history as holding the record for the longest nurses strike in state history.
Due to the highly successful collaboration of the United States government and big business to squash labor movements in the United States, union membership and labor sentiment in general have seriously declined over the past few decades. Striketober provides a shred of optimism for those who want to see a new era of worker’s rights. Maybe Striketober will set the groundwork for a labor movement that pushes for employers to provide outstanding benefits such as a living wage or safe working environments.
Either way, Striketober is the sign of a unique moment in recent American history both economically and culturally. The wealth gap between the uber-rich and everyone else is widening, workers are quitting their jobs left and right, and, fittingly, the most popular show on Netflix right now is a south Korean drama that functions as a thinly-veiled critique of capitalism (the irony that it’s trending at a time when Netflix has almost reached 230 billion dollars as a company and many of its employees are currently also on strike is for a different time). Wheaton students looking to support the striking workers can do their part by not crossing the picket line-boycotting goods and services by the companies that workers are striking against.