From Hamburg to Haifa to Hollywood and Beyond, Labor Is Taking It to the Streets and Winning
By Robert Fulton, Contributing Writer
Both internationally and stateside, the labor movement has lately been showing its strength as its members participate in significant strikes, demonstrations, and various other direct actions taken up against a variety of unjust, anti-worker, undemocratic developments throughout the world.
In recent months, it is union workers who have orchestrated massive strikes that, in some cases, have ground their countries’ economies nearly to a halt. They’ve taken to the streets of Paris, Los Angeles, Germany, and Israel to loudly and proudly lead the protest charge, refusing to accept increases in retirement age; persistent, ingrained low wages; and wayward right-wing politicians with undemocratic aims.
All the while, big strikes are ratcheting up for more traditional but no less worthy reasons (read: low pay) among organized labor in major sectors here in California.
Read on for a look at what’s been motivating our brothers, sisters, and siblings to vigorously mobilize en masse as 2023 chugs along — and what they’ve managed to win thus far.
French Protests Against Pension Reform Grow More Ferocious
Hundreds of thousands of citizens of France have been demonstrating against that country’s government’s pension reform proposals, including one that would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Under the state’s plans, the retirement age would be raised by three months a year until reaching 64 years in 2030.
The protests, which have been going on since January, are the largest in France since the large anti-regressive-taxation “yellow vests” protests of 2018.
French President Emmanuel Macron used constitutional shenanigans to implement the pension reform without a vote, claiming it is vital to balance the pension budget. Opposition has called the move “unfair” and “cruel.”
On Friday, April 14, a French court determined Macron’s proposal could advance.
John Logan is a San Francisco State University professor and the chair of that school’s Labor and Employment Studies Department. He described the different labor and political climates in France and the United States.
“Macron is absolutely determined to try to push this through,” Logan said.
German Transportation Workers Strike for Higher Wages
Tens of thousands of German transportation workers went on a one-day strike at the end of March to demand higher wages. The strike canceled nearly all train and plane travel.
The unions representing transportation workers in Germany are demanding a pay raise of 10% to 12%, but their employers are offering only a 5% bump. Workers have cited inflation and high energy costs following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as reasons for their demands.
“The cost-of-living crisis in Europe […] is very real,” Logan said. “The war in Ukraine has resulted in a skyrocketing energy crisis in Europe. It’s very, very severe in some European countries.”
The Verdi service workers’ union represents more than 2.5 million public sector employees in Germany. EVG represents 230,000 workers at railway and bus companies.
General Strike Shuts Down Israel
The workers of Israel demonstrated their power in a massive way in late March and into early April, thwarting elected leaders’ attempts at draconian judicial tinkering.
The country came to a standstill last month as millions of workers went on a nationwide strike to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul. Netanyahu’s desired reforms would upend the country’s check-and-balance system and give the Israeli parliament more power than the courts, allowing the ruling political party to overrule supreme court decisions.
The strike, called by the Histadrut labor federation, shut down public transportation, schools and businesses nationwide. Histadrut represents 700,000 workers in health, transit, banking and other fields.
The general strike was the biggest in Israel’s history. As a result, Netanyahu announced he would delay the controversial judicial reforms.
Strike Forces L.A. Unified School District’s Hand
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99 exercised a temporary three-day strike in March on its way to landing a new contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
In a show of solidarity, the local teachers’ union, United Teachers of Los Angeles, refused to cross Local 99’s picket line. This move effectively shut down the second-largest school district in the country for three days. The action lasted from Tuesday, March 21, through Thursday, March 23.
Local 99 represents approximately 30,000 service workers, including cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants, and others. The membership overwhelmingly approved the tentative agreement, with more than 99% voting in favor.
The deal includes a 30% salary increase for all Local 99 members, $2 more per hour for the lowest-paid employees, bonus payments, retroactive pay, and health benefits.
On Tuesday, April 18, the LAUSD board voted unanimously to approve the agreement, making this a significant win for L.A.’s school service workers.
According to the SEIU, the 30% wage hike will increase the average salary of its members from $25,000 a year to $33,000. The proposed deal also includes a $1,000 bonus for all members with the district in the 2020-’21 school year.
“This contract recognizes the essential work of those who work hard to ensure students can learn in a clean, safe, and supportive environment,” said Max Arias, executive director of Local 99, in a press release. “It is a major step forward, with significant improvements to wages, work hours, and benefits for dedicated education workers who have been left behind for far too long.”
Writers Guild of America Ready and Willing to Strike
Film and TV production is on the verge of shutting down any minute if the Writers Guild of America (WGA) does not reach a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers by the expiration of its current agreement on May 1.
A strike authorization vote that began on Tuesday, April 11, and concluded on Monday, April 17, resulted in an unprecedented 97.7% “yes” from the WGA membership.
The WGA represents approximately 12,000 film, TV, and digital media writers. The guild is seeking several changes in its new contract, including increased compensation for streaming content, better protections for writers’ rights, and a greater say in how their work is used.
“We’re fighting for writers’ economic survival and the stability of our profession,” said Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, a WGA negotiating team member, in a video posted to the guild’s website. “The companies have never taken our issues seriously without at least the threat of a fight.”
“When you’re sitting there in the room, you realize quickly that they don’t respond to economic arguments or moral persuasion or even appeals to basic decency,” said fellow WGA negotiating committee member Eric Heisserer in the same video. “The companies only respond to power.”
The WGA last went on strike in 2007 in a work stoppage that lasted 100 days.
Longshoremen at Odds With Shippers
In April, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) staged a 24-hour shutdown of L.A. and Long Beach ports.
The ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) have been negotiating a new contract since the middle of last year. The old contract, which covered more than 22,000 workers at 29 ports, expired last July. The L.A. and Long Beach ports handle nearly 40% of the country’s imports from Asia.
Both the ILWU and the PMA have been tight-lipped about ongoing negotiations.
“Longshore workers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are still hard at work and remain committed to moving the nation’s cargo,” according to an ILWU statement released on Friday, April 7.