Workers in many industries around the country are going on strike. That includes workers in automotive plants, and even writers and actors working in Hollywood. Strikes are disruptive — that’s the entire point! — and have a long history in the United States in being a useful tool for workers to extract demands from employers.
While the disruption caused by strikes can cause financial and economic headaches for politicians and consumers, striking is typically supported by most of the population (in most cases, but not all). And workers generally strike in order to increase their wages, secure additional benefits, and similar reasons.
Given that many workers are striking as of the fall of 2023, and many others will go on strike at some point in the future, it can be helpful to gain a better understanding of strikes, what they’re designed to do, and how, economically speaking, they can be powerful tools in the hands of workers.
What it Means When Workers Go on Strike
When workers go on strike, it effectively means that they’re refusing to do any additional work until their demands are met. They’re not quitting their jobs, they’re simply walking away or holding off until they get what they want. Employers, who run businesses that generate money, need those workers to keep their operations running. If workers are refusing to work, then they probably aren’t generating any revenue at all.
As such, workers going on strike can grind a business to a halt, putting pressure on an employer to meet their demands so as to get operations up and running again.
Strikes can occur in any industry, but tend to be more potent in highly specialized industries. For instance, there are only so many workers in the world who are skilled at building airplanes. If those airplane builders go on strike, they might be very difficult for an employer to replace, meaning that the employer will feel more pressure to meet the workers’ demands. In that sense, a strike’s effectiveness all comes down to the age-old economic concept of scarcity.
Many times, workers who go on strike are members of a union, which is a group of workers who have banded together, or pooled their resources in an effort to have their demands met. Think of it this way: If one worker goes on strike, an employer can probably replace them with relative ease. But if all of the workers go on strike — they unionize and act as a collective to bargain with an employer — it would be much more difficult to contend with.
In the end, though, that’s what a strike is all about: Collective bargaining between a group of workers and an employer (or employers).
Money Vehicle’s Tenets and Strikes
How do strikes coincide with financial literacy and high school students? They might not — at least not immediately. But a core tenet of the Money Vehicle course is income, and no matter where someone is on their financial journey, they’re going to need to earn an income.
Striking is, at its heart, a form of negotiation. It’s typically a last-ditch effort or the result of a failed negotiation, but it’s negotiation nonetheless. As such, you might find yourself in a position to strike, or at least play hardball during the negotiation process, at some point in your professional life. Employers aren’t apt to hand out raises or promotions — those often need to be requested, justified, or fought for. You may need to take your skills to the open market, too, and find a new job to secure a pay raise.
That’s what’s important to understand about strikes — they are tactics meant to improve the standing of workers. Most people need to work for a living and need to anticipate that they’ll need to do some tough negotiations with employers at some point in their lives. That doesn’t mean you’ll end up on the picket lines, necessarily, but depending on your industry, it might.
Striking is a potent tool for workers, and understanding how it works can be beneficial to workers of all stripes — even students who are not yet working, either.
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