Today is Patriot Day, a national day of remembrance of the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks. Americans can show their support by flying Old Glory at half-staff and observing a moment of silence at 8:46AM Eastern Daylight Time—the moment when the first plane struck the World Trade Center.
At the same time, Chicago public school teachers are on strike, exercising their collective right to stop work and protest. They walked off the job Monday because contract negotiations fell through. Both sides are pointing fingers, but the good news is that negotiations have restarted.
Strikes, boycotts, and protests are ways in which otherwise powerless individuals can collectively assert power against an organization, company, or government. One of the famous protests in American history was the Boston Tea Party. We look back at this iconic event with fondness and think of protests as quintessentially American. But the actual history of collective actions against those in power has been fraught with difficulty, progress as well as setbacks—and violence.
Did you know that strikes in the U.S. have become rare events? Chris Rhomberg, Special to CNN, points this out and argues that America would be better off with more strikes. In the 1970s, an average of 289 major work stoppages occurred each year, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In the 1990s, the average was only 35 per year. In 2009, there were only five work stoppages.
What’s happened? “We have essentially gone back to a pre-New Deal era of workplace governance,” Rhomberg writes. By this he means a return to period of time in which federal courts denied the rights of workers to organize. This was called the “judicial repression.” This changed in 1935 with the National Labor Relations Act, ushering in a long period in which organized labor and business had to reach accords.
Since the early 1980s, however, all this has come undone. Rhomberg describes what happened in detail, but hid conclusion is this: “…we have returned to a policy of judicial repression.” In a sense, strikes have become un-American.
Is the rarity of strikes today a good or bad development?
Would America be better off with more strikes?
Are strikes unpatriotic?
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.