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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

This year has been marked by strikes and national conversations around unions. Earlier this spring, the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) went on strike, with the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio (SAG-AFTRA) members joining suit in July, followed by the United Auto Workers (UAW) in September. The news and media have fueled the discourse covering the protests that members of these unions have been going through, however much of that discourse is mixed. Newscasters have been debating the impact of the strikes, either the potential consequences or the necessity of the strikes, adding to the division. Before I discuss the importance of unions and what each of those strikes mean for their industries, I wanted to set the stage by talking about the history of strikes in America.

U.S. Union History

In American history, union ideas such as protection for workers became part of our lifestyle after our fight for independence. During the 19th century, the most famous union was the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Rules regarding wage increases and workplace safety conditions have been associated with the success of the AFL. In the 1970s, union membership and influence was at its peak but it has declined steadily over the years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership in 2022 was around 10.1% or 14.3 million members, down from 10.3% a year prior. But people may wonder what is the need for unions. Unions provide protection, representation, and benefits for their members. Some benefits of being a union member include being paid an average of 30% more than non-union workers and 92% of union members have job-related health insurance compared to over 68% of non-union members. In addition, unions celebrate American culture and history because they make America stronger in terms of economic growth, productivity, safety, and health in the workplace to name a few.

History of Strikes in the U.S.

Now that we’ve established the history of the unions and membership benefits, where do strikes come in? Strikes occur when union members vote in favor of a strike or halt of work. Like the origins of unions, strike origins have a similar place in U.S. history. For instance, strikes have spanned back a few hundred years. One important strike was the first union of working women in the 1830s created by the Lowell Mill Women. In Lowell, Massachusetts, the textile mills industry was a place where many women worked and the conditions were terrible. They worked in unsafe conditions and had even longer days, so they organized a strike to show that their absence would hurt the economy. Another key strike happened in the 1970s. U.S. Postal employees went on strike because they grew tired of low wages for the physically demanding requirements of the job. In March 1970, New York postal workers went on strike and soon other postal employees in the nation followed, which became the largest walkout by federal government employees.

The Big Three of 2023

Cut to 2023. Beginning in the spring, the WGA voted to strike because of poor work quality, low wages and residuals, shrinking writer’s rooms, and threats from Artificial Intelligence (AI). The WGA was the leader for the strikes in Hollywood, lasting 146 days, which is the second longest strike in Hollywood history. Studios and the leaders of the WGA found an agreement that included wage increases, better health benefits, larger writer’s rooms, and better residuals. In terms of AI, the agreement doesn’t prevent it but prohibits the technology from eliminating a writer or their pay. During the WGA strike, the SAG-AFTRA joined to strike for job security from growing inequalities in movies and television due to streaming services and changes in media consumption. Their strike is currently ongoing as of Oct. 9, 2023. The UAW has been on strike since September. The three domestic automakers; Ford Motors, Stellantis, and General Motors have not been operating since. The strike is now made up of 25,000 United Auto Workers. President Biden visited the picket lines making him the first U.S. president to join a labor union on strike.

In Sum: Why We Should Care

Strikes can be scary, unstable, and sometimes harmful. They do impact other workers in related fields or in other areas. However, that is the point. Strikes add or put pressure on the big executives to enact real change to benefit all workers. For the UAW, they helped save the automobile industry in 2008 and the industry did incredibly well, but it’s time for the workers to reap the benefits. Members of WGA are the heart of our favorite films and television programs because, without them, actors cannot deliver a performance, so it was time for their rights to be protected. For SAG-AFTRA, lesser-known actors or character actors deserve living wages because it is fair and entertainment is critical for enjoyment and storytelling. It’s important to pay attention and explore the reasons for strikes laid out by unions, and to stay informed. 

Emily Clifford is a writer for Her Campus UConn. She enjoys writing about her unique experiences at college and other topics such as career, culture, and lifestyle. Emily is also the Marketing Vice Chair of SUBOG's Digital Entertainment and Films Committee and Vice President of Media for UConn CHAARG. Emily is working at the UConn Center for Career Development as a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Ambassador this school year. During her free time, Emily loves to read contemporary romance and fantasy novels, taking spin and barre classes, and baking. She is a huge fan of the NY Islanders and of sailing. One of favorite podcasts is Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend.