credit: shutterstock

French unions love it. She returns to the United States with the smell of sanctity. The strike is being used on both sides of the Atlantic to put pressure on employers or the government. How do both countries use it? Are American workers as few followers of strikes as they say? We looked at numbers and practices.

Yes, the Americans go on strike. And more and more.

Infographic: Number of Striking U.S. Workers at Last Last Seen in the 1980s | StatistaThe French are tempted to think that Americans never go on strike or unionize. It's wrong. Unionization rates are comparable in both countries: around 11%, which has been falling sharply since the end of the Second World War. On the beach side, too. Exhilarated by the good health of the economy and their good image in the public opinion, the American unions have more and more recourse. In 2018, there were twenty "Interruptions of work" (Strikes and temporary closures of companies decided by management in anticipation of a strike) involving more than 1,000 people, against 7 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A record since 1987. In total, in 2018 strikes in the United States involved some 485,000 workers. This threshold should be exceeded in 2019. The social news of this year was particularly marked by the strike of the 50 000 employees of the car giant General Motors. It had been twelve years since the company had experienced a movement of this magnitude.

The US public service is more unionized, but …

This does not mean that the Americans suddenly became potential strikers. Twenty is far from the 470 "interruptions of work" of the year 1952 in the United States. While the number of US workers unionized in the public is higher in the United States than in France (33.9% against 19%), the strikes of the American public sector are more rare.

And that's normal. As the Pew Research Center notes, only 11 states formally recognize the right to strike of civil servants. "In the other 39, public sector strikes are illegal, even if they occur occasionally. Strike concerns have long been used to discourage public servants from forming unions and to obtain collective bargaining rights". According to the Pew, these restrictions come in particular from the specter of the Boston police strike in 1919, whose decision to stop work to protest against a ban on becoming a member of unions had caused an increase in crime in the city. Ronald Reagan had evoked this episode when he had crushed the grumbling movement of the more than 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981, a black page in the history of American trade unionism.

The feeling of being "taken hostage" in France

In a centralized country like France, the general strike movements in the public (teachers, transport, etc.), such as those we have been witnessing since the 5th of December about the pension reform, have a greater power of nuisance than United States, where strikes do not paralyze the country. While general strikes broke out in several US cities in the early twentieth century, including Seattle in 1919, they gradually disappeared from the landscape due to restrictions adopted in the 1940s, notes the left magazine. The Nation.

Another factor undermines the strength of American unions: the fact that they organize themselves at the level of each company and negotiate on this scale (and not that of the branch or industry). This system leads business leaders to use ingenious techniques to dissuade employees from joining a union or even to prevent their creation. The Vox news site explains that "most European countries (…) have found a way around this. Trade unions do not just bargain at the company level, but also at the branch level, working for all workers in a sector rather than a single company, explains Vox. Since any company, regardless of the number of union members, must respect the same agreement, they have less incentive to discourage"Unionization.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here