“American public opinion has come to terms with the decline of the unions for decades. This is no longer the case “

EObviously, seen from France, homeland of social conflict, the strike movements underway in the United States are not impressive. Since the start of the year, just over 323,000 employees have walked off the job. A drop of water for a country which has 136 million. The “big night” is not for now. Despite everything, it had been several decades since such a boil had been observed.

Very media Hollywood actors and screenwriters strike to nurses, through cleaning staff in hotels or waiters in restaurants, the claims are multiplying. In recent weeks, under pressure from the unions, American Airlines pilots and UPS delivery men have already obtained substantial wage increases. On September 14, the contracts of the 150,000 employees of Ford, General Motors and Stellantis expire. The United Auto Workers (UAW), the union for the automotive sector, has called for a halt to work if the three manufacturers do not agree to the 32-hour week and a 46% wage hike spread over four years.

The situation has nothing to do with that which prevailed before 1980. Between the Second World War and the election of Ronald Reagan, each year, between 1 and 4 million Americans resorted to strike action. The tipping point came in August 1981, when the newly elected president broke the illegal air traffic controllers’ strike by dismissing the strikers and replacing them at short notice with soldiers. The American labor movement never recovered from this episode. Union density, which had peaked in 1954 with more than one-third of American workers affiliated with an organization, fell to 10%.

Reversal of the balance of power

As sociologists Judith Stepan-Norris and Jasmine Kerrissey note in their latest book Union Booms and Busts (Oxford University Press, 2023, untranslated), anti-union legislation has multiplied. THE “Right-to-Work Laws”, these “right to work” laws are in force in more than half of the American states. They prohibit union agreements with employers and deprive organizations of dues paid by employees. In addition, the bankruptcy law allows a company to reorganize and cancel all agreements previously negotiated with unions. Finally, companies are increasingly turning to consulting firms to help them avoid the establishment of trade unions (“Union Avoidance”).

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