After the success of the numerous strikes and job actions for American Walmart workers, the struggle to win respect for non-unionized workers is spreading across the continent. A week after the Black Friday walkout, hundreds of workers from fast food restaurants across New York City staged a cross-workplace strike for better wages.
While these strikes and job actions were years in the making for labour organizers, new workers’ associations are now being forged in Canada. The Canadian United For Respect campaign began in November. It seeks to give Canadian employees of retail chains such as Sobeys, Price Choppers and IGA, a voice in their workplace.
These new workers’ associations represent a different direction for the labour movement. For the first time in nearly a century we see masses of non-unionized workers walking off the job and striking for better conditions. United Food and Commercial Workers, the force behind the original organizing drive realized that it had hit a brick wall. Faced with harsh anti-union tactics from Walmart and other employers, the union leadership decided that instead of giving up and accepting the anti-worker encroachment, they would apply some ‘outside of the box’ thinking.
This new way forward is based on learned tactics from the past. The precedent now being set opens the door to a wider variety of methods and, most importantly, for the participation of all workers, no matter how repressive their employers are towards organization.
What we are witnessing could be the start of a new chapter in labour history. Now that the established law and courts-based method of worker organization is no longer seen as the only way to win, there can be a return to the grassroots, militant spirit that gave birth to the workers’ movement.