As the wealth divide in the United States continues to grow, more and more workers and unions have become fed up with their current circumstances. Workers from companies such as John Deere and Kellog’s have picketed and demonstrated, crying out for better working conditions, and of course, a comfortable living wage.
One of those organizations was the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, who went on strike in October. Many of these employees live in Atlanta.
Although organizers canceled the strike, it would have threatened all film production in Atlanta, and the surge of activity is a sign of changing times on the side of labor. Labor unions have seen a decline in the United States, and there are several reasons for this.
New Deal era upward economic mobility saw a lowering in the numbers of union workers. Congress sold Right to Work laws to give workers autonomy over whether or not they could join a union.
Barring the fact that compelling someone to join a union is illegal, in practice, Right to Work laws have tilted the employee-employer bargaining relationship into the hands of the employers, making it more difficult for unions to organize and negotiate. The weakened presence of unions in workplaces and politics overall led to the rolling back of the social safety net, which allowed previous generations to move upward in their economic situations.
The reason why unions are important for workers is rather simple. There is very little that workers can do in the war of organizing for quality of life improvements regarding their employment. As a worker, there is very little that is in your control, including the amount of money you make, and at times, the number of hours you work.
Unions also leave the distribution of life-saving amenities like healthcare and maternity leave in the hands of employers. Unions allow workers to bargain for these benefits and so much more. Workers in unions make 28% more than those who do not, and 84% have jobs that provide healthcare, with only 64% of non-union workers having it.
In 1981, when The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) went on strike, over 11,000 employees were fired by President Ronald Reagan himself, setting the stage for a decade of weakened unions and neoliberal austerity.
Currently, Americans are witnessing the greatest wealth divide of their lives. Many people still remember the effects of the 2008 market crash, and with a global pandemic in the background, times get more desperate for many people.
Work shortages and supply chain issues have poked holes into the notion of the disposability of the average worker. Workers are and have been realizing their necessity to the process of production and accumulation of profits.
Wages have not risen with the inflation rate, and as more people see the effects of this contradiction, more action will be inevitable for more companies.
The visibility of workers’ movements will be vital in the future of labor organizing. Those coming of age in an age where labor organizations have some presence in our world will have a head start, as they can learn from the lessons of current movements.
Most of us do not work in the Atlanta film industry. Most of us probably don’t work at John Deere and Kellogs. However, what we do have in common with the workers of these respective companies is our relationship to our wealth as it applies to our labor.
Thousands of people collaborate and give their talents to film and television productions, many of whom are a lot less known and less paid than big-name actors. Behind every show, there is an army of thousands, just like us, who must go to work every day and struggle to support themselves or their families.
These people, just like anyone else, deserve a fair wage and a comfortable life, as, without their collective efforts, there would be no production.