Going on strike can be a grueling and difficult proposition. You may not necessarily know when it’s going to end, depending on the specifics of the union’s vote. You face pressure not only from the corporation or individual employer you’re protesting, but also from the public, as seen, for example, during the BART strike. Everyone wants you to stop striking, and you’re dealing with internal pressures, too.
Striking is expensive. Even when funds are available to provide support for workers, they usually can’t totally meet expenses; union dues go to people like negotiators, for example, and it can be difficult to offer stipends for strikers, especially when lots of people are on the picket and a strike goes on for an extended period of time. Outsiders watching a labour strike may support it in theory, but not know what to do in terms of personal actions to help striking workers.
Never fear. I have a few suggestions.
- Contact the targets of a strike. Corporations will often try to wait out a strike in the hopes that they can choke it off, and one of the reasons they do it is that they count on workers being unable to sustain the strike, in part due to lack of public support. Make it clear that you support the strike and want to see worker demands met. If you’re not precisely sure about what workers are asking for, contact the union — often the union’s website will have information, but if not, a press person will. For that matter, people on the picket are also well-informed and will have fliers you can take home. Contact regional officers, the CEO and CFO, etc. Make it clear that you’re aware there’s a strike, you know why it’s happening, and you support the workers.
- Walk the picket with workers. Workers are happy to have other people join the picket to increase their numbers, and they’ll provide materials and training for you, including signs, buttons, and so forth. Picketing can be exhausting, especially if you’re doing it for days or weeks, and people to provide some relief are very much welcome. By showing up, you’ll also be reinforcing the fact that members of the public support the strike and want to see justice for workers. Recruit your friends. Make a party of it. Encourage people who are thinking about crossing the picket to think otherwise — often, people aren’t aware of the issues surrounding a strike, and just need some education about the issue. You don’t have to literally walk to be on a picket. Wheelchair users are welcome. Seating can be arranged for people with fatigue and mobility impairments.
- Whether you picket or not, providing in-kind support can be helpful, though your ability may vary. Order food to be delivered to the picket and/or union hall to support workers who may be hungry on the line. Participate in food drives intended to help workers who can’t afford food during the strike to keep going. If it’s raining, gang together with some friends to buy rain protection, or to solicit donations from organizations that might be willing to help. If it’s super-hot, buy some cases of bottled water, sunscreen, and sun protection. If you can’t afford these things on your own, that’s okay; a group of people can chip in, or union members may be running a crowdfund to help them afford these things for people on the line. If you run a business, consider making donations or working with other businesses to provide a group donation.
- Monetary donations. While these may not be an option for everyone, if you can contribute to a general fund designed to provide stipends to workers, please do. You can help make the difference between ending a strike before demands are met because workers can’t afford to be out any longer, and pushing through to the end. Contributing to general funds ensures that workers can stay in their homes, meet utility bills, and provide for their families. As above, if you’re a businessowner who wants to work in solidarity with striking workers and you have available funds, support workers.
- Support unionisation in general. Workers may be striking during union negotiations, or for the right to unionise. Challenge people who vilify unions and workers fighting for fair treatment. If you work at a company where people are working to organise or considering doing so, provide support, even if you don’t personally lead the charge. Work to promote the rights of workers wherever you go, to make it clear to the public and to employers that you don’t support exploitation; for example, don’t stay at nonunion hotels, and avoid unionbusting hotels in particular — and tell them why.
- Signalboost calls for media attention. Unions rely on word of mouth, so you can join them. Write letters to the editor, and use the Internet to extend information about strikes through your networks. The more support unions see, the more heartened they feel during tough negotiations, and that same support will also be hammered home to companies trying to resist negotiations.
- Contact regional officials. Government officials may pressure unions to end strikes and try to force people back to work. Make it clear that you don’t support such draconian measures and interference with the right to organise. Tell government officials considering such actions to rethink their plans.
- Finally: Don’t cross that picket line unless you are in a life or death situation. In other words, if you need to access an emergency room and the closest one is at a facility where people are striking, proceed. In all other cases, ask yourself if there’s another location where you can access services, or if such services are critically necessary. If you’re a student at a college or university where people are striking, for example, skip class until the strike is over — and if your professors or administrators try to penalise you for it, help organise student resistance and solidarity to make it clear that you refuse to be pressured into crossing a picket.
Image: Another Bus Strike, Nick Bastian, Flickr